In anticipation of campus closures in early May due to protests, UC Santa Cruz’s College Housing and Educational Services (CHES) sent a directive to resident assistants (RA) from Porter, Kresge, Crown, Merrill and Colleges Nine and Ten requiring them to staff the dining halls. On call RAs will also be tasked with select custodial duties like stocking toilet paper, seat covers and removing trash.

“We are asking that all RAs be prepared to assist in the dining halls when/if the campus becomes inaccessible due to either a protest action or a strike,” said Associate Vice Chancellor of CHES Sue Matthews in an email.

While not serving as dining hall staff members per se, RAs are required to sign up for a shift “on any day the campus accessibility may be limited or staffing drastically reduced.” Their duties will include greeting students and answering any of their questions, as well as wiping down tables and maintaining inventory.

Several RAs, including College Ten RA Kevin Sarabia, plan to attend upcoming campus demonstrations despite the requirements imposed by CHES. Sarabia felt the imposition was an unfair abuse of his contract.

“They’re replacing dining hall workers with RAs and they’re not even compensating the RAs with money, they’re expecting the RAs to basically do free labor,” Sarabia said. “[…] There’s this really vague line in the RA contract that says ‘additional activities as assigned.’ So technically they can say it’s in our contract, obviously it’s completely unfair.”

While CHES says that RAs are required to participate in keeping the dining halls open, Section 3562(e) of the California Government Code protects the right of student employees to organize and strike in solidarity with other striking workers, according to an AFSCME 3299 FAQs. Additionally, student employees are entitled to the same protections from retaliation for striking that their unionized counterparts are.