Photo by Natasha Cocke
On Thursday, Jan. 31, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299 workers and UCLA students stood together in solidarity to protest the University of California’s insufficient pay and treatment of UC service workers.
The AFSCME is the official union of UCLA service workers and has been attempting to bargain for better working conditions since August of 2017. In negotiations, the AFSCME has asked for improved job security, pension protection, affordable healthcare, and fair wages but state that the University of California has not taken the concerns of their employees to heart.
“It’s come to the point in negotiations where it is clear we are not being taken seriously,” says Frank Lombardi, who works in UCLA Dining. “We are working with bare bones staff, serving more students than ever, and need to be treated with more respect.”
With record breaking numbers of UCLA applicants in the past two years, the burden of serving more students has fallen on the shoulders of UC Service workers. However, in spite of the increasing amounts of students, UC workers remain understaffed and underpaid. This school year, the University of California proposed enacting emergency layoffs, which would allow the UCs to call off workers without notice, and a pension opt-out that would defund the pensions already in place for employees.
Employees like Frank Lombardi, are frustrated with the UC’s lack of concern for campus workers’ safety and financial security, stating, “We work extremely hard to keep this campus running and need to be treated with respect and dignity.”
To show their solidarity with UC campus workers, the UCLA Student Labor Advocacy Project helped organize protests at various UCLA locations on Thursday. The protests began at 10:30 a.m. in front of Covel Commons and later moved to the front of the Ronald Reagan Medical Center and in front of the flagpole in Royce Quad. Together, students and staff alike held signs and chanted together that “UC greed has got to go.”
This protest also holds an emotional significance, as Jan. 31 marks the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Strikes. This strike for the safety and fair treatment of Memphis Sanitation workers was supported by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the eve of his assassination and is a testament to his legacy. This anniversary is especially important since the majority of campus employees who are affected by the UC’s unfair work conditions are immigrants and people of color. This anniversary is more than a date, it is a reminder of the racialized structures of inequality in our country that allow organizations, like the UC system, to exploit and mistreat workers of lower racial and socioeconomic class.
“50 years later,” said Alexis Hatun, a second-year member of the Student Labor Advocacy Project, “50 years later and it’s the same protest.”
To Hatun, UC campus workers are the backbone of UCLA, and as students, showing solidarity is critical to help make progress: “Campus workers make our campus function and keep facilities running. We wouldn’t have a good educational environment without them.”
Alexis Hatun and the rest of the students in the Student Labor Advocacy Project said they want to see the UCs give campus workers a raise, and ensure better treatment of campus workers. The group would also like to see UCLA rehire its valet workers who were fired last October in favor of cheaper student labor and only offered part-time jobs as compensation. Many of the former valet workers at the UCLA Medical Center say they have developed medical issues due to their unsafe working conditions, and are an example of the UC’s lack of concern for the safety of their employees. To many, the replacement of campus workers with students is an example of the UC system prioritizing profits over employees.
“If you exploit campus workers, you’re exploiting UCLA students,” says Hatun, “We stand with our campus workers.”
Even if students aren’t personally affected by the UC’s treatment of campus workers, it’s important they show support for UCLA’s campus staff and the personal lives that are affected by the UC system’s exploitative treatment. If UCLA students ignore their school’s poor treatment of the people responsible for its day to day functions, then they are complicit in this system of inequality. It’s important that students use their voices to support the lives of UCLA employees.
As Lombardi said, campus workers “deserve respect and equality.”
It’s time to stand with UC campus workers.