About 60 students and unionized workers gathered in front of the Cowell/Stevenson dining hall Feb. 1 to picket for a fair labor contract with UC administration. Demands included wages consistent with the high cost of local living and retirement benefits for unionized employees befitting their status as government-employed workers, such as a pension. They also advocated for student employees to be paid wages competitive with unionized staff.
The student demonstrators marched into the dining hall itself, urging the diners and workers who stayed in to take action.
“I just want to let you all know that you have a lot of leverage on this campus,” said Crown Student Union Assembly representative Sabina Wildman to the dining students through a bullhorn. “Students need to show up […] we need to be able to come together as a community to fight against this multi-billion dollar public institution that’s exploiting us.”
The demonstration was just one among many, with concurrent demonstrations taking place at most of the UC campuses. The UC Santa Cruz demonstration was small-scale, peaceful and had no observable law enforcement presence.
The East Bay Times reported that the UC Berkeley demonstration had a crowd of about 100 blocking the intersection of Telegraph and Bancroft, and one union demonstrator was arrested and thrown to the ground by three officers. The demonstrator was later released after being charged with vandalism and resisting arrest.
The UCSC demonstration began with circular picketing outside the dining hall and primarily consisted of workers from the AFSCME 3299 and UPTE 3 unions sharing stories of their struggles to make ends meet interspersed with student perspectives.
“I have two young children, a three-year-old and a nine-year-old, I live in under 300 square feet downtown and carry four jobs,” said Mark Shunney, Sesnon Art Gallery manager and UPTE 3 member. “This foundation at UCSC is completely fractured […] I’m not alone, there are staff all over this town who struggle and worry about their rent and how they’re going to feed their families. It’s awful.”
Other demonstrators used their time on the bullhorn to air their frustrations with the UC administration, both in their obstinance at the negotiating table and in their callous treatment of staff.
“I am so sick and tired of meeting with the university year after year talking about the same subjects,” said Rebecca Gilpis, AFSCME 3299 member and demonstration organizer. “We’ve been at the table for over a year […] are you telling me that it takes a whole freaking year to figure out if you can meet our demands? Why? It doesn’t make sense.”
Presently, AFSCME 3299 and UPTE 3 are both without an active contract with the UC. The unions plan to take full advantage of that fact, should they feel that the university continues to negotiate in bad faith.
“That means we can all go on strike at the same time,” said Philip Johnston, UPTE 3 president and UCSC instructional technologist. “If they don’t get the message, boy are they going to feel some pain when that happens.”