UC Santa Cruz students are no strangers to strikes and unions fighting for fair pay. In backing workers, we can signal our support of our university colleagues.
We’re inclined to support these strikes because they affect us as students. They’re inherently intertwined with the quality of our education.
But what about our support towards injustices against unions throughout the City of Santa Cruz? Why aren’t we giving them the same energy?
On Oct. 17, city employees under the Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU 521) gathered at City Hall as early as 4:00 a.m. to demand higher wages. The strike consisted of over 400 Santa Cruz city service workers, and while they were able to reach a tentative agreement on Oct. 20, it is not a happy ending.
City workers are currently among the lowest-paid workers in Santa Cruz, making $34,000-$50,000 annually. These workers include garbage collectors, water distribution employees, and library staff.
It’s not the end of a magic wand that cleans our trash and empties our recycling bins every week. It’s thanks to the tireless efforts of city workers, some of the most underrepresented voices in the community.
Despite their crucial roles in the community, one that includes nearly 10,000 UCSC students living off-campus, they are deeply undervalued by the city and by Santa Cruz residents. They need to have UCSC students backing them in their mission.
Laborers across the city have had to fight for fair contracts over the past two years. Employees of Bookshop Santa Cruz formed a groundbreaking union in February 2021 and the Ocean Street Starbucks that unionized started rolling strikes in August 2022 after being fed up with unfair labor practices.
As UCSC students enter the workforce and housing market in Santa Cruz, it’s important that we show our support for labor across town. We shouldn’t forget the city’s use of deflective language to invalidate the livelihoods of city workers, either.
“Our employees are hardworking and dedicated to their community,” said Santa Cruz City Manager Matt Huffaker in a press release. “It’s unfortunate that the impacts of a strike will hit city residents hardest.”
Does it really hit residents the hardest? Or does not paying your city workers an adequate wage hit them the hardest? These workers try to make due with the scraps they have in a city that demands a patchwork quilt to live here.
Words like Huffaker’s are no different to the demeaning words that UCSC administration had for labor on campus. Former UC President Janet Napolitano told striking graduate students in February 2020 that “holding undergraduate grades hostage and refusing to carry out contracted teaching responsibilities is the wrong way to go” despite the fact that many were paying up to 70 percent of their income on rent.
Condescending language by higher powers in getting fair pay is a common thread. Whether it be labor on campus or in the city, UCSC students must stand in solidarity with both.
The cost of living per month in Santa Cruz for one person is $2,773 and $5,360 for a family of four, equating to $33,276 and $64,320 a year, respectively. With the average city worker salary ranging from $34,000 to $50,000, executive administrators are vastly out of touch with the needs of those who work for them.
UCSC students make up nearly 30 percent of the city’s 62,000 residents — it’s not enough to only think in terms of our campus bubble. We need to show our support towards labor issues affecting workers throughout the city, whether or not they’re led by UCSC students.
When it comes to labor solidarity, issues in the city that affect one of us affect all of us. This latest strike by SEIU 521 will surely not be the last time that labor groups will go on strike in Santa Cruz.
The next time it happens, UCSC students must be there for them.