Photo by Thomas Sawano

In a Valentine’s Day show of force, about five university workers and 32 students marched to Kerr Hall to demand a meeting with Chancellor George Blumenthal. They were affiliated with the AFSCME Local 3299 and the Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC). Chancellor Blumenthal was not in the  building.

“We want our feelings and our ideas about what we want to happen on this campus to be not just heard, but acted upon,” said Sabina Wildman, UCSC fourth-year and WSSC activist. “We want to see workers being respected, treated well and being able to retire.”

The demonstration came nearly two years after AFSCME 3299’s service contract with the UC expired in June 2017. While most of the contract’s guarantees remain in effect — like its health insurance and 30-day sick leave policies — its expiry leaves union members in a vulnerable position. Workers are concerned the UC will use the expiration as a bargaining chip for a pull-back from protections against outsourced labor contracting. 

“The UC’s going to fill our positions with a bunch of contracted-out workers, with no benefits or pensions,” said Nicolas Gutierrez, an AFSCME 3299 leader and senior custodian at College Nine. “We take pride in our work, [but] there’s no pride in that.”

Photo by Thomas Sawano

Last month, AFSCME 3299 and WSSC staged a protest during the regent’s meeting at UC San Francisco. It focused on the issue of employee outsourcing at UC Davis’ new joint-venture rehabilitation hospital in Sacramento. Since then, AFSCME 3299 has made little progress toward a new contract with the UC, marking month 20 of deadlocked negotiations between the university and the 24,000-member union.

Thursday’s demonstration was more personal. Brandishing signs and bouquets of dead flowers, protesters trudged through the pouring rain from the Quarry Plaza to Kerr Hall to pay a visit to Chancellor Blumenthal. They demanded greater administrative support for AFSCME 3299’s wage and benefit goals. The group walked into the central campus administration building shouting, “your greed is  showing.”

Demonstrators were met in Kerr Hall’s lobby by Jean-Marie Scott, the associate vice chancellor of Risk and Safety Services. Addressing the crowd of sopping students and workers, she said that while the administration was grateful for the group’s enthusiasm in spite of the rain, she would not be able to grant the protesters an audience with the chancellor. 

“I’m here to listen,” Scott said. “I want to honor your walk today by carrying your message to Chancellor Blumenthal. But unfortunately, he’s not here.” 

Photo by Thomas Sawano

The protesters resumed their chants for fair contract terms around the building. After the exchange, Nicolas Gutierrez delivered a brief speech. 

“Today is supposed to be a day of peace and prosperity — of having a human heart,” Gutierrez said. “As far as Blumenthal is concerned, he never represents the students or the workers in anything that he does.”

Gutierrez presented Scott with the dead flowers — it was a Valentine’s Day gift from AFSCME 3299 to Chancellor Blumenthal. While the protest did not achieve immediate administrative recognition, it was a thorny reminder of what UC workers see as a withering relationship with their employer.