Strike hits res. halls, eateries

    In response to deadlocked negotiations with the University of California, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 held a statewide one-day strike on April 14, leaving residence halls without custodians and food facilities understaffed.

    Kaia Lai

    “It’s not about shutting down the campus, it’s about showing that we’re united,” said AFSCME 3299 organizer Jessica Lopez, a 2002 John Muir College graduate.

    Service workers picketed at eight UC campuses and five university-run medical centers across the state, despite the university’s conclusion that the strike was in violation of the law.

    Negotiations between the university and the union are in a period of state-mandated impasse and disruption of these proceedings by the strike has been considered illegal by the university.

    “The University of California believes this strike is not only unlawful … but also clearly demonstrates bad-faith bargaining by the union,” UC spokesman Noel Van Nyhuis stated in a university press release.

    University administrators also said the protest is unprotected by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, the state law that officially defines the relationship between universities, employees and the unions that represent them.

    The union, however, has called the protest completely legal.

    “It’s illegal for management to threaten or intimidate you about supporting the strike — they can only ask if you intend to be at work on the 14th,” union officials stated on the local’s Web site.

    At UCSD, service workers, faculty and students picketed for almost 18 hours around the perimeter of the university. Days in advance, flyers dotted the campus urging students to support the protest and contact UC President Robert C. Dynes and UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox concerning the union’s demands.

    Assistant Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Rogers Davis issued a letter to students and faculty before the strike began promising that the university was doing all it could to find a solution.

    “While the parties have not yet reached agreement on a contract, it is the university’s intention to continue working with the AFSCME representatives to arrive at an agreement,” Davis stated in the letter.

    The union held a two-hour rally in the afternoon in front of Gilman Parking Structure. During the rally, service workers and their supporters spoke out in support of the union’s goals.

    “It’s been too long since people that do the jobs that we do have been recognized,” Earl Warren College groundskeeper Gabe Gonzalez said. “It’s our intention to maintain the highest quality of service.”

    Speeches were spoken intermittently in both English and Spanish, due to the large number of Mexican and Latino employees.

    “We just want a raise,” Thurgood Marshall College custodian Josefina Gonzales said. “A lot of us can’t pay our bills and we’re tired. That’s why we’re here — we’re tired.”

    The rally also gathered supporters from other university-affiliated unions and various student organizations.

    “As students, we need to stand together with our service workers and show them that we’re here united,” A.S. President-elect and current Commissioner of Diversity Affairs Christopher Sweeten said.

    Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Cara Dessert, a student representing both Students for Economic Justice and Queer People of Color, said she considers the treatment of service workers to be partially due to race.

    “Many of the people who choose this job as their career are Mexican, and they’ll go 10 years without a raise,” Dessert said. “Then a white person employed for one year will get one. We want a policy that will respect people who make this their career.”

    AFSCME 3299 represents more than 7,000 service workers employed by the University of California, including groundskeepers, custodians and building-maintenance workers.

    The union, which has been in negotiations with the university over a new contract for almost a year, is asking for across-the-board increases every six months and a 20-percent wage increase over the next three years.

    The university called the union’s demands “financially unrealistic” due to the confines created by the state budget. In order to comply with the union, the university said it would face costs in excess of $36 million.

    “The university has offered raises for service workers predicated upon the budget compact with the governor, which provides increased salary funding over the next several years,” Van Nyhuis said.

    The university is scheduled to meet with the union on April 18 in response to the protest.

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