By Jessica Parral

Hundreds of students and service workers gathered at the Quarry Plaza last Thursday to express their concerns about ongoing contract negotiations between a service worker’s union and the University of California.

Members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees local 3299 (AFSCME), a union representing 11,000 campus service workers, disagree with UC on how to handle health care coverage and pension protection.

Ernesto Encinas, a member of AFSCME, believes that current worker’s salaries do not cover the cost of living in Santa Cruz.

“[AFSCME] workers apply for jobs advertised as paying $20,000 to $30,000 a year,” he said. “But the system is designed so that you’ll never reach $30,000.”

In response to the controversy, UC issued a press release on its dispute with AFSCME.

“Salaries for many employee groups continue to lag the market,” it read. “UC is working to ensure market-competitive salaries for all employees.” The press release cited wage increases from 2006-2007, totaling over $12 million, as an example.

At least one UC Santa Cruz faculty member also attended the rally. Dana Frank, a history professor, attacked the university’s claims when she addressed the crowd through a megaphone.

“I’m a professor who’s going to get a big fat five- to ten-percent raise,” she said. “How come they can suddenly find that money and they can’t find money for everybody else?”

Kate Flanagan, a fourth-year UCSC student who attended the protest, shared Frank’s doubts about pay increases.

“It sounds like there’s a lot of money not being used,” Flanagan said. “UC makes a profit every year and can somehow pay for the high salaries of its administrators.”

A 2006 report on the AFSCME website shows that there is a definite wage disparity between UC service workers and their counterparts at other universities. According to the report, UC service workers are paid roughly 25 percent less than CSU service workers.

Contract negotiations between AFSCME and UC are ongoing and could drag on for several months, but campus groups like the Student Worker Coalition for Justice and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) seem committed to sticking with service workers until the end.

MEChA member David Partida hinted that more protests may follow.

“We’ll hold as many [protests] as we need,” Partida said. “We won’t stop until justice is met.”