Illustration by Leigh Douglas

UC Santa Cruz isn’t UC Los Angeles. As a rule, UCSC doesn’t fight its workers every step of the way, bringing minor disputes all the way to arbitration like UCLA does with staggering frequency. So it’s discomforting to see UCSC going the way of its more combative southern cousin with its recent jab at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Before AFSCME’s contract with the UC expired in late September, UCSC began taking additional pension contributions out of the paychecks of AFSCME members without negotiating. Pension contributions are a mandatory subject of the contract bargaining process, so AFSCME filed an unfair labor practice charge against UCSC on behalf of the local Skilled Crafts Bargaining Unit, the targeted AFSCME unit.

The Public Employee Relation Board for California ruled in AFSCME’s favor, and an informal hearing involving the UC and AFSCME is occurring at the time of publication. And that’s the crux of this whole issue. It’s not a grey area at all. UCSC was in the wrong. They clearly violated the contract agreed upon by both parties. It’s strong-arming, plain and simple.

It’s clear to everyone that the university is in more than a little financial trouble, and that everyone must take cuts where they can. But reneging on union deals is low, especially when considering the inflated paychecks of upper-tier UC administrators (many “earn” well above six figures). Yudof maintains that such inflated salaries are necessary expenditures in order to retain talented employees.

But Yudof doesn’t keep this campus running from day to day. Our bus drivers, food workers, carpenters, electricians and medical technicians do. Weakening unions hurts workers, the UC and Santa Cruz as a whole.

It’s crucial that students recognize the vital role played by unions like AFSCME. You’ve seen them demonstrating. They’ve had a presence at almost every major student protest in the last several years. Out of all the UCs, UCSC is known for having a student body that has been overwhelmingly supportive of its unions. We can’t let that change, especially in the face of underhanded pressures from the UC itself.

Unions are in bad shape at UCSC, with groups from UC-AFT (University Council – American Federation of Teachers) to AFSCME doing more and more work with fewer and fewer people. The parallels between their situation and the plight of the student trying to get the classes needed to graduate while juggling jobs to pay for skyrocketing tuition costs should be obvious. We’re all stung by massive financial cuts. But we need to show the UC that striking at its most vulnerable members isn’t going to create a UC that we can be proud of.

UCSC is the biggest employer in Santa Cruz. It’s not a stretch from there to understand why protecting union workers is important.