As unions representing low-wage workers at the University of California, many of our members faced housing vulnerability before the pandemic. Now, with COVID-19, housing insecurity is an even scarier reality. The shelter-in-place order will not keep us safe if we cannot stay housed. And to put it simply, the UC is as unreliable an employer as it is a landlord. Outgoing UC President Janet Napolitano recently pledged that the UC would not lay off any career employees due to COVID-19 through June 30. What happens after that is unclear.
Our statewide labor coalition includes a dozen unions representing over 80,000 UC employees. Our members hold a diversity of positions across the UC that include classroom instructors, graduate student TAs, undergraduate tutors, custodians, groundskeepers, facilities workers, clerical and administrative, skilled trades and information technology support (especially helpful in running the online classes). Our collective labor runs the UC, a world-class public university system.
As we look ahead at the tremendous difficulties of returning to university life during a pandemic, the realities of California’s housing crisis and the unlikelihood of silver-bullet solutions, we are resolute in our efforts to organize for housing rights and stability. For our members who live in UC family housing facilities, and whose partners have lost their jobs or had hours reduced, security of employment at the UC is essential in keeping these families safely housed and ensuring a continuity of health insurance.
For our members on year-to-year contracts who don’t know where their next job will be, signing a lease is difficult. Owning a home is far out of reach. And if you lose your home, trying to get rehoused is a major challenge. The ripple effects and subsequent waves of COVID-19 add even greater levels of uncertainty to our members’ lives.
For workers living off campus, skyrocketing rent and housing prices have already pushed them further and further away from their workplaces and put them in situations of housing and food insecurity. Layoffs or other reductions in pay would force impossible choices between maintaining adequate housing and adequate nutrition for our members and their families.
California’s public universities are essential to the health of our communities and to the economic recovery of our state. As part of the statewide housing rights movement, we recognize that the UC, as the largest public employer in the state, has enormous power to limit the harm of future layoffs and help ensure we remain housed. Mass layoffs in the middle of the most severe pandemic and economic recession of the last century would leave UC workers unable to pay rent in some of the most unaffordable housing markets in the country. We have a responsibility to each other, especially now, and the UC President and UC regents have a responsibility to the thousands of workers who ensure the university continues to run.