Workers and students alike gathered in support of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, the UC-wide service workers union. At demonstrations at Kerr Hall and Cowell/Stevenson Dining Hall on April 12, AFSCME 3299 workers at UC Santa Cruz launched their “$25/5%” campaign and presented it to the  administration. 

With the $25/5% campaign, AFSCME 3299 is demanding a $25 minimum wage for UC employees, and for employees already making $25 or more an hour to have their current wage raised by 5%. The union is also advocating for non-unionized student employees to be included in the demand for a $25 minimum wage.

While the union’s contract isn’t up for re-negotiation yet, they are demanding the increase as a cost-of-living adjustment to match the 15 percent increase in inflation since 2020, according to Nicolas Gutierrez, a senior custodian at UCSC and AFSCME 3299 member who led the rallies.

“Since [the pandemic], there’s been corporations outside who’ve given their employees a cost of living adjustment […] Yet the UC’s doing nothing for their workers,” Gutierrez said. “We decided now is a good time to fight for a cost of living raise.”

Workers from the dining hall and the custodial staff, who travel upwards of ninety minutes a day to get to work, were joined by students in their fight for a fair wage. All photos by Henry Thomas.
Members of the union who work at the university came out to support their fellow workers’ call for change. Thomas Brazer (far left) is an HVAC technician at UCSC. “I’m here to support the union and get good pay for all of our workers so that we can live in the area that we serve,” Brazer said.

About 70 people showed up at noon for the demonstration at Kerr Hall, where Gutierrez physically presented a letter from the union to Associate Vice Chancellor of Risk and Safety Services Clement Stokes. The union intended to present the letter to Chancellor Cynthia Larive, but front desk staff told them she was unavailable.

At 2:30 p.m., about 50 demonstrators, including Gutierrez, gathered again outside of the Cowell/Stevenson Dining Hall.

Nicolas Gutierrez, a AFSCME 3299 member and leader of the rally, shakes hands with Bill Prime as he delivers the union’s demands.

After rousing the crowd with another speech, Gutierrez led the crowd in chanting, “Sí se puede!” as they marched to the Dining Hall Administration Office. There, they delivered the union’s letter to Executive Director of Dining Services Bill Prime, who gave no comment.

Gutierrez said that AFSCME 3299 informed the UC of their intent to launch the campaign at the UC Regents meeting in San Francisco on March 15. Workers rallied across all nine UC campuses, marking the first actions of the campaign.

Wednesday’s demonstrations were also organized by the Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), which was originally created to support AFSCME 3299 members at UCSC during a previous strike in 2018.

“Our goal is to build a community of students that are able to […] figure out how to thrive under capitalism, which, in a lot of ways, means destroying capitalism,” said Adria Vidales, a fifth-year UCSC student, AFSCME 3299 intern, and WSSC organizer. 

Vidales said that the union plans for the $25/5% campaign to last as long as it takes for them to win their fight. Vidales works three jobs, two of them at UCSC, so they are intimately aware of how much a successful campaign could change people’s lives. 

“The reason I have to work three jobs is because it’s impossible to live in Santa Cruz without struggling to survive,” Vidales said. “[The campaign’s success] would affect everything about how we live — our ability to pay rent, our ability to access healthcare, our ability to buy food. The fact that we have to spend so much time working is time that we can’t spend studying, or just living.”

At the demonstration in Cowell/Stevenson, second-year student and on-campus worker Aaliyah Balangue spoke to the crowd. “When I see all of these workers here, I see my mom, I see my dad,” she said.

Balangue hopes that more students will mobilize to support the $25/5% campaign.  

“[This is] something that’s really important; not only for the staff that works here, but also for you,” Balangue said. “[These workers] take care of your facilities, your dining halls, where you eat, where you shower, where you use the bathroom. But oftentimes, they’re displayed as invisible people, because the university refuses to value them as workers.”

Prema Reyes and Sofia Ruster contributed additional reporting.