Photo by Catharine Krebs
As UCLA students, we are taught to believe that our administration always has the best interest of the students and workers of this school at heart. We would like to think that a school that presents itself as a haven of equality and fairness would treat its students and workers with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Many students don’t know about the many ways in which UCLA and the UC system as a whole exploits and mistreats its workers. It’s time we educate ourselves about the issues UC workers are facing so that we can show the administration we will not put up with the way it’s treating the people who run this school. One concrete way in which we can do that right now is by showing our support for the strike happening Monday through Wednesday of this week, May 7, 8, and 9.
AFSCME’s (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) local chapter, AFSCME 3299, is the UC system’s largest labor union, representing over 24,000 service workers (like custodians or dining hall workers) and patient care workers across all UC campuses. Over the past year and a half, the union has been negotiating a contract with the administration about their pay, retirement plans, healthcare plans, and other issues. The UC’s final contract offer cuts workers’ healthcare benefits, replaces guaranteed lifelong retirement plans called pensions with unreliable 401(k) plans, and does not even offer workers a living wage. It also does not address the blatant pay and representation disparity among workers.
AFSCME 3299 recently released a report that uncovers the many ways in which the UC allows for gender and race-related pay and representation gaps. For example, the study revealed that Black women service care workers are paid 10 percent less than white men service care workers, and Black women patient care workers are paid 23 percent less than white men patient care workers. Overall, the average starting wages for women are as much $2 per hour less than for men. Between 1996 and 2015, the amount of Black patient care and service workers declined by 37 percent. And while the UC boasts its $15 minimum wage policy, it often outsources work to contract workers, or hires people who aren’t UC employees, and pays them as little as $8.50 an hour.
Simply put, UC workers deserve better. AFSCME 3299 is asking the administration for 6 percent wage increases every year, a pension plan that will allow workers to have a stable retirement at age 60, no increases to healthcare costs, no contracting out, and strengthened sexual harassment protections. The administration has all of the resources needed to meet these demands, and can do so without increasing student tuition, which it might try to argue must happen to meet these needs. In fact, between 2005 and 2015, the ratio of average salaries between UC’s top 1 percent paid employees and all other workers rose from from 7:1 to 9:1.
This week, May 7-9, 53,000 workers, including 25,000 AFSCME 3299 workers joined by workers from other unions who want to show their support, are going on strike to fight against the economic, gender, and racial issues that UC workers face. It will be the largest strike in UC history. As students, we have a lot of power; our tuition provides the university with the money it needs to function, which unfortunately means that it is more likely to pay attention to worker issues when students show their support. As a result, it is our duty to show up and fight for what’s right, because we have the ability to make real change.
The main way in which students can show their support is by not crossing the picket line, or the symbolic barrier students and workers are asked not to cross to show their support for the strike. The picket lines will be located by the Bruin Bear, Covel, and the Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Students who want to show solidarity with the workers should choose to not eat at the dining halls for these three days and by coming to the picket line whenever possible, where they can spend time with the workers and get to know them. Instead of eating in the dining halls that will be staffed with scab labor, or non-UC workers hired to temporarily replace the people on strike, they can come eat a free meal provided by AFSCME with the workers who will be gathered at the picket lines all day, or eat at 580 Cafe where any student can come get a free meal (located at 580 Hilgard Avenue).
The struggle for workers on campus is constant, and organizations on campus such as Student Labor Advocacy Project (SLAP) work all year to forge student-worker solidarity. This strike is a critical opportunity to gather momentum and visibility for this movement, and we cannot miss this opportunity to send a clear message to the administration. UCLA’s workers do so much for us––without them, there would be no UC. It’s time we show them basic dignity and respect. I’ll see you all at the picket line.