By Toan P. Do
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Students and workers rallied and picketed together outside Kerr Hall last week, marking the second day of a weeklong affair known as Raising Awareness Week (RAW). RAW was created to foster solidarity among students and workers in the ongoing contract negotiations between the UC and its service workers, a debate that ended last week when the workers and UC settled on a new contract.

“We went to Kerr Hall to visit the chancellor, who wasn’t there of course, but we were able to deliver a letter of our demands to his assistant and I think people were really escalated and riled,” said Sandra Lane, co-organizer of RAW. “I’d say the picket was the most successful because a lot of students and workers showed up for it.”

This year’s Raising Awareness Week took an unexpected celebratory turn when the university and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) agreed on a new contract for 8,500 university service workers.

Unlike the old three-year contract, this new five-year contract gives workers a promised 10 percent pay increase over the first three years. After that, the workers could possibly gain another 6 percent raise depending on state funding.

“This has been a 17-month contract negotiation — it has been a very intense struggle,” said John Williams, third-year American studies major.

Nicholas Gutierrez, a 14-year custodian of building R3 at College Nine, was part of the bargaining committee during the negotiations between the university and AFSCME.

“Our role, all across the state, was to sit in during the bargaining, listen in, and exchange what we call proposals between the university and the service workers,” Gutierrez said. “It was long hours. Some days felt like we weren’t getting anything done.”

Still, Gutierrez is quick to remind anyone that although this contract was a victory for AFSCME, the battle continues.

“It’s not exactly what we are fighting for or what we had at the table from the beginning, but I like to say that UC made a step in the right direction for a change, so we’ll just build off that,” Gutierrez said.

Student Regent D’Artagnan Scorza explained that the university is also in a tough position, but is happy that the two parties were able to settle on an agreement.

“There have been extremely thoughtful conversations about trying to increase workers’ wages to living conditions,” Scorza said, “and there are regents who not only were very concerned, but would actively work toward making sure the university would do that.”

But Scorza is quick to warn that there may be some consequences to the new contract.

“Given the economic situation I think it’s a good deal,” Scorza said. “People are getting laid off. The UC might even be faced with laying some of these people off. There might be some lateral effects — increase in pay gives you less money to hire the lines of staff that you need.”

Despite facing an uncertain future, Gutierrez said he is very grateful for all the students and workers who fought for awareness and justice.

“I think that every student and worker at one time or another contributed to this victory because it is our victory,” he said. “We do claim it as a victory because the university doesn’t, out of their heart, just come and give you a nice contract. It took all the students, it took all the workers, it took everyone coming together and fighting this and winning this.”