As negotiations continued for a new UC service worker contract, UC Santa Cruz workers rallied in front of the Cowell/Stevenson and College Nine/Ten dining halls. Held on Feb. 27, the actions were two of many organized by the UC service worker’s union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 3299), across the 10-campus system.
“We take care of you — UC take care of us!” picket signs read as UCSC dining hall workers and students united to demand greater respect as UC employees.
A critical component of the discussion at the bargaining table, hosted at UC Davis, is the issue of pension plans and retiree health benefits.
The UC recently proposed a two-tier pension and retiree health benefit plan, which would increase all service worker persion contributions by 1-2 percent of wages, and raise the minimum age of retirement from 50 to 55 for employees hired after July 1 of this year.
As part of ongoing discontent with worker treatment, AFSCME 3299 organizer for UCSC Rebecca Gilpas also spoke about larger issues at hand.
“UC is the third largest employer in California, so they have the power to increase or decrease the standard of life,” Gilpas said. “But you’re told that if you don’t like it, there’s another person in line — get out. Shame!”
Dining hall worker and longtime AFSCME activist Maria Padilla spoke of environmental working conditions at the dining halls that students can see.
“Every year, it seems like more and more students come to the dining halls and we have just the same amount of workers,” Padilla said.
Director of housing services David Keller and two assistant managers of employee and labor relations watched the rally from a short space away. Keller said they had no control over the contract negotiations themselves and that they were in attendance as part of their job.
The rally also focused on students’ connection to dining hall workers. Of the roughly 40 individuals present at both rallies, about half were students. Similar to the Jan. 31 action, in which scores of students and employees came out, a Facebook event was organized by the Student Labor Action Project.
Organizing director of the Student Union Assembly and former student dining hall worker Kevin Huang led chants at the rally and criticized dining hall hiring practices in a later interview with City on a Hill Press.
“The administration is definitely overcompensating [the need] to hire new full-time staff by hiring part-time student workers,” Huang said. “We’re not as trained — we don’t have the time to fully commit to a full-time job like a service worker from AFSCME.”
Huang added that it was heartening to see so many workers in attendance.
“It was really powerful to see the workers themselves step out and show some courage in urging their employer [to grant] respect and dignity in the workplace,” Huang said.