Union rally targets labor talks

    Protesting the low wages of service workers employed by the University of California, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees staged its second rally of the year on Nov. 4 at Price Center.

    Anna MacMurdo
    Guardian file

    “We’re spreading our word to whoever will listen,” AFSCME executive board member and UCSD parking enforcement officer Irene Carrasco said.

    The protest coincided with two days of on-campus wage negotiations between service workers and representatives from the university. Similar negotiations are currently underway at every UC campus.

    The university has pointed to the state budget as the source of service worker dissatisfaction with wages.

    “We appreciate where [the service workers] are coming from, but with the current budget crisis, [higher wages] are just not possible,” UC Office of the President spokesperson Noel Van Nyhuis said.

    The university has said a new compact with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, if approved by the state Legislature, will provide for pay increases starting in 2005.

    Protesters gathered in Price Center before marching down Warren Mall to Voigt Drive, eventually reaching the Campus Services Complex, where negotiations were taking place.

    Upon arrival, a number of service workers and their supporters spoke to those at the negotiating table.

    “All religions are in favor of justice,” said Sister Justine Church from the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, a group in support of AFSCME’s cause. “When you’re working as many hours as these [service workers] do, there’s no room for God — and I don’t think he’s very happy about that.”

    Church and her group were among several organizations that gathered in support of the protest, including the University Professional and Technical Employees Union, College Democrats and Students for Economic Justice.

    “These workers are the foundation of this institution, and it’s only with them that we can assure that we’re preserving a better tomorrow,” said Nina Leshan, leadership and development coordinator for UPTE.

    Occupations such as custodian, food service worker and groundskeeper are classified as service workers.

    In addition to higher wages, AFSCME has several other objectives in mind for the benefit of university-employed service workers, the union stated in a press release.

    “Workers are asking for respect, a fair raise, an end to favoritism, seniority pay and a chance to advance via a career ladder program,” AFSCME protest organizer Jessica Lopez said.

    Discontent stems from the fact that the university has offered no raises for the next three years, a subject brought up frequently at the negotiating table.

    “Many of us are holding onto these jobs for the health benefits, but 0 percent for three years means zero hope for hundreds of workers,” said Allen Rutherford, a senior building maintenance worker.

    The university responded to the protests with understanding, expressing anticipation for better budget conditions.

    “We’re very hopeful that the compact with Gov. Schwarzenegger will allow us to offer them what they want,” Van Nyhuis said.

    Service workers are among the lowest paid staff on campus, earning as little as $8.32 an hour. The average university general staff member receives $10 per hour.

    “It’s such a simple thing,” said Jamie Browning, a program assistant for the John Muir College Residential Life Office. “They’re asking for only 50 cents to a dollar more [an hour] — to give it to them should be obvious.”

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