Service workers protest wages

    The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 demonstrated against low wages of service workers employed by the University of California at a Price Center rally held on Oct. 13.

    “This is about respect,” said Jessica Lopez, an AFSCME organizer and 2002 John Muir College alumna. “There is enough money to allocate to service workers: [the university] just doesn’t consider them important enough to get it.”

    The AFSCME rally drew an estimated 100 to 150 supporters for the protest, a group comprised of both workers and students alike. Lopez introduced a variety of employee speakers, who shared their feelings of discontent with the university.

    “We want a better salary, a better schedule,” said Susana Jaimez, a custodian for the Earl Warren College residence halls and apartments. “We don’t want to have to work on Sundays.”

    Upon leaving Price Center, protesters marched down Library Walk to the office of Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, where Lopez delivered a signed letter from AFSCME urging the university to provide a “fair raise” for service workers.

    In a press release, AFSCME stated that its three main objectives include “a fair raise over three years, a career ladder program [and] a ‘step’ pay system that respects years of experience.”

    The university attributes the low wages to budget cuts, but states that it is taking several actions to help remedy the situation. The state budget for the current year did not provide money for pay raises and did not fund cost-of-living salary adjustments.

    “Our new budget compact with the governor includes funding increases for staff salaries beginning next year, which, if supported by the legislature, will allow us to resume regular raises,” UC spokesman Paul Schwartz stated in a press release.

    While waiting for the legislature, however, the university is also trying to find other ways to recognize its employees, including, “a salary-based approach for premiums so that lower-paid staff pay less [for health care], retirement income enhancements and two additional paid days off this year,” Schwartz said.

    Though the state budget does not provide funding for cost-of-living salary adjustments, the union said the university has found money to provide raises for other workers.

    Under a contract signed last summer, 10,000 UC-employed patient-care workers — also organized by AFSCME — were offered 10 percent in wage increases over three years. Service workers were looking for something similar, Lopez said, but have not been offered pay raises during ongoing contract negotiations.

    AFSCME represents food servers, custodians and building maintenance workers, who manage some of the university’s operations.

    “We’re trying to rise to a standard of living that’s comfortable. We’re not asking for anything we don’t deserve, we’re asking for our fair share,” said Bob Hardrick, a senior building maintenance worker at UCSD who also serves on the executive board of AFSCME.

    Hardrick acts as a liaison for the bargaining committee, which is currently in wage negotiations with the university. The bargaining committee is attending to this systemwide process by holding meetings at each UC campus and the office of UC President Robert C. Dynes. Meetings at UCSD will begin Nov. 4.

    Individual campuses, however, are not responsible for negotiating directly with AFSCME.

    “The issues AFSCME have raised, including wages, are being discussed by the parties at the system-wide negotiations table,” Assistant Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Rogers Davis stated in a press release. “That process must be respected and appropriately maintained.”

    A number of students also helped the cause, including members of Students for Economic Justice, which sponsored the protest.

    “I see Patty, the custodian who works on my floor, all the time. She’s continually cleaning our messes, and she’s barely getting anything for it,” Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman Takashi Matsu said.

    The average service worker earns approximately $10 an hour, below the $12.27 needed by a family of four with two working parents to afford basic amenities, according to Lopez.

    Among the lowest paid of workers are those in food service, who earn $8.32 an hour. Because the protest was held during lunch time, many of these service workers were not able to attend.

    “[The university] continually tell[s] us there’s no money, yet we know that they have it,” Hardrick said. “If the administrators are going to receive increases, the people on the floor — the ones who do the dirty work — deserve the same.”

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