This submission discusses the faults of the UC system in meeting the needs of its students and staff, and is courtesy of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS Local 94).
The University of California announced layoffs to 200 campus workers at UC San Diego and UC Riverside. Reports have estimated that this number will soon expand to 3,000 campus workers across all of the UC campuses. The UC system has a choice to either make massive cuts to its students and workers or use a small portion of its endowment and capital reserves to prevent these austerity measures. The UC system has upwards of $10 billion it can use in the short-term to cover all COVID-19 related costs and maintain a safe environment for its students and workers. However, it continually fabricates its image of being “poor” to manufacture the “need” to lay off workers, increase tuition and class sizes, and cut resource centers. It is clear that the UC system has more than enough money on hand to avoid all of these austerity measures but does not prioritize the community. Furthermore, UC San Diego has consistently refused to accommodate the needs of students undergoing extreme stress under COVID-19 as well as Black students, staff, and faculty members who face state-sanctioned violence at the hands of police across the country. UCSD also shows minimal care for students and workers as it implements the Return to Learn Program (R2L) which proposes a partial and gradual return to campus with monthly COVID-19 testing. This program volunteers us all as test subjects to draw money in from our overpriced on-campus housing. UCSD needs to do better for it is the lives of Black and brown students and workers at stake.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees 3299 (AFSCME 3299) is a labor union representing 27,000 service and patient care workers across all of the UC campuses and hospitals. They are the frontline workers who are keeping us safe while being denied personal protective equipment for themselves. They are also the workers who have fought for racial and gender equality by winning the right to insource 10,000 privatized UC workers. However, these “heroes”, as the UC system ironically calls them, are among the first to face massive layoffs. Since June 24, eight workers of color have already been set for termination at UC Hastings due to “budget cuts,” and the UC system has also threatened a $500,000 cut to undocumented student resource centers. These initial cuts are a sign of what is to come: massive layoffs of up to 3,000 workers, increased tuition and class sizes, and cuts to student resources. AFSCME 3299 understands that the UC system fabricates images of artificial scarcity to justify these austerity measures, which is why the union has dug into the reality of just how much liquid cash this $40 billion enterprise has on hand. According to AFSCME 3299’s research presentation, the UC system has over $5 billion in excess capital liquidity reserves, an additional $5.2 billion in unrestricted endowment funds, and it has already liquidated $2 billion in excess capital reserves. This means that the UC system has over $10 billion readily available to support campus communities before even accessing any loans. AFSCME 3299 uses this information to say that while it fights for increased state funding for students and workers, the UC system must make use of their endowment and reserves to avoid all austerity measures at UC campuses.
With the recent anti-Black violence and the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, it is Black, indigenous, and other students and workers of color who are most impacted by UCSD’s weak responses and poor decision making. UCSD curates an image that absolves itself from accountability by leveraging the diversity of Black students and workers while denying them basic rights and care. In May, the university published an article that praised itself after QS World Rankings ranked UCSD the sixth best public university in the nation for “diversity, employability, and internationalization.” Amidst the university’s long legacy of invalidating and harming Black students as well as its current implementation of the Return to Learn campaign, this statement is a slap in the face. UCSD has failed to provide the support that Black students need. When Black students requested lenient grading options the university responded with a vague email that absolved itself from any responsibility. The email did not present concrete solutions that show how UCSD is listening to Black students, but instead contained a hackneyed message of its “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” UCSD’s meager response demonstrates how it does not prioritize Black students and only cares about itself when it boosts its image as a university. Recently, the Black Student Union at UCSD sent out a list of official demands directed to the university to respond to by July 15, which included sections addressing anti-Black racism on campus and actions the university can take to address safety, wellbeing, recruitment, and retention of Black students as well as measures to defund UCPD. Though there has been an initial response from the “Cabinet”, according to the BSU, there has yet to be an official response or action from UCSD.
Furthermore, UCSD’s disregard for students, staff, and faculty doesn’t end there. The experimental Return to Learn Program endangers students, staff, and faculty to COVID-19. These decisions were made without the consultation of students, faculty, and labor unions, or news of a vaccine for COVID-19. In a webinar on June 26 organized by a group of concerned students, staff, and faculty members titled “Perspectives on Return to Learn,” many attendees expressed their concerns about the future of their health and those around them. Additionally, academic student employees and non-tenured faculty from the University Council-American Federation of Teachers Local 2034 and United Automobile Workers 2865 expressed their lack of choice to return to campus since they are already under stress surrounding secure employment. It is unacceptable that UCSD is willing to risk students’ and workers’ exposure to COVID-19 to make up for their so-called lost revenue. The university praises itself for its “employability,” yet continues to dispose of workers and put their health on the line. This is further seen in how UCSD hospitals continuously failed to distribute PPE for all its workers and how Housing Dining Hospitality student workers were furloughed even though students reported that they were promised to be given hours during Spring Quarter 2020.
The Return to Learn Program is not about quality education but rather about recuperating the money that students spend on housing. UCSD has the resources it needs to maintain the safety and financial stability for its students and workers without pushing them to return prematurely.
We must push the UC system to meet the demands of The Council of UC Faculty Associations, affiliated unions, and allied student groups which include access to child care, pay continuation, deprivatizing student housing, and student debt forgiveness as well as to push for our own needs for reduced tuition, smaller class sizes, access to counseling and expanding resource centers. The first test of our strength comes when layoff protections for the workers who maintain our access to a safe and equitable education end on July 1. Now is not the time to minimize our demands, but rather the moment we define the UC experience for the next several years. Join us and other allied student groups across the UC system for a “Student-Worker Week of Action” happening July 6 to July 10.
USAS Local 94 is a student organization that flights alongside labor unions for justice and equality.