Food For Thought: Students and janitorial staff unite outside the Cowell/Stevenson dining hall in a stand against dining hall hour cuts. Photo by Nita-Rose Evans.
Food For Thought: Students and janitorial staff unite outside the Cowell/Stevenson dining hall in a stand against dining hall hour cuts. Photo by Nita-Rose Evans.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union and UC Santa Cruz students held demonstrations outside each of the university’s 10 dining halls last week to protest cuts to dining hall staff hours, which workers say are leading to unhealthy eating conditions.

Protesters held signs that read “Job Security is a Right” while chanting, handing out fliers, and banging on dining hall windows.

The protest was in response to Dining Services’ recent decision to cut dining hall workers’ hours, which also resulted in cuts to service hours for some campus eateries.

As of Feb. 8, late-night dining ends at 11 p.m. instead of 12 a.m.; Terra Fresca restaurant will be closed on Mondays; and Oakes Café and Owl’s Nest Café will be closed on alternating Fridays. Some eateries, such as Banana Joe’s, will expand hours.

“They’re cutting hours to the food service workers,” said Nicolas Gutierrez, an AFCSME-affiliated custodian who works at College Nine. “We have to do the same amount of work in fewer hours, which means less pay.”

According to Scott Berlin, the director of Dining Services, changes to dining hall staff hours are the result of a mandate from the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) that UCSC partake in a salary savings and staff furlough program.

“It was mandated that there had to be a salary time reduction,” Berlin said. “We weren’t given an alternative in this.”

Berlin expressed support for the workers and said that they have the right to demonstrate. However, he also said that since the cuts come from above, UCSC has little power to change them.

“I’m very sympathetic and apologetic to them,” he said. “[But] it’s not stemming from the campus level or even the department level, it’s coming from the Office of the President.”

UCSC spokesperson Jim Burns said that the cuts are part of an overall savings program, approved by the Board of Regents in July to address a decrease in state funding.

“The employees have had to be a part of addressing a UC systemwide shortfall of nearly $1 billion,” he said. “Temporary reductions in time have had to apply to all UC employees.”

Protesting workers said that cuts to custodial hours have meant that some food service workers are now cleaning.

“They’re not trained,” Gutierrez said. “Anyone can pick up a sponge, but they don’t really know how to do it.”

Berlin says that although custodial hours have been cut, this is not the case.

“They’re doing the same work they’ve always done,” he said.

During the demonstration, workers handed out fliers suggesting that dining halls have also become unsanitary as a result of cuts to staff hours.

“There is no such thing happening,” Berlin said. “We meet all health and safety codes. We’re doing all the same work. There’s nothing to substantiate that [claim].”

Osmin Cruz Garcia, who works in the Cowell/Stevenson Dining Hall, attended the protest at Cowell because of the hardships he has faced as a result of these cuts.

“My hours have been cut by 45 minutes to an hour per day,” he said, adding that that was an average cut for many workers.

Every hour adds up, especially when UCSC pays lower hourly wages to custodians than many other Santa Cruz businesses.

“We just want market-value wages,” custodian Gutierrez said.

Berlin said that cuts to the work day and financial hardship are not facing UCSC workers alone.

“It’s not just something that UCSC is doing — this is a nationwide problem,” he said. “… The economy’s not turning around and nothing says next year’s going to be any better than this year. Hopefully somebody’s working hard on some solutions.”