Picketers protest UC treatment of workers
On Feb. 1, workers in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees trade union picketed at the ARC in protest of the treatment they receive in their positions from the UC. AFSCME represents over 24,000 employees across all 10 UC campuses. Others outside of the union came out to support, including both undergraduate and graduate students and community members. Eric Gudz, a former UC Davis graduate student who was pursuing a masters degree in Transportation, Technology, and Policy, elaborated on the reasons he came out to support AFSCME workers.
“A lot of the workers, both student workers and non-student workers, have presented a series of demands and certain needs that have been unfulfilled and unmet within our administration system,” Gudz said. “They have a list on their website and Facebook group for all the demands they have, but where it boils down to is pay, benefits and making sure that we do everything we can within the university to protect employees’ right to unionize and to prevent any sort of attack or reduction in unionizing power. It’s very important that we’re here supporting unions and everyone’s right to unionize and organize effectively.”
Blanca Centeno, a UC Davis worker with the custodial department, discussed a few of the reasons why she was picketing.
“We’re here right now because we’re fighting for justice, equality, respect and dignity,” Centeno said. “It doesn’t matter how many years pass by, we always have to keep fighting for our future.”
UC Davis employee Kristina Torres also discussed her reasons for picketing.
“We are here today because the service workers and the patient care workers under AFSCME do not have a contract,” Torres said. “The University of California has not been bargaining faithfully with us and so service workers have been out of a contract since June 30 of 2017 and patient care workers since Dec. 31 of 2017.”
Torres talked about what her hopes were for the outcome of the picket.
“We’re hoping that the university hears us, sees us in solidarity, and that we’re going to fight for everything that we deserve because they’re coming to the table with giving us zero across the board for any kind of salary wages,” Torres said. “They’re saying that all of us make too much, they want to cut our pensions, they want us to pay more for our health benefits and raise the age of retirement from 60 to 65. This is the second protest that we have had. Obviously, the university still came to the table with no negotiating.”
Caroline McKusick, a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology, also came out to support AFSCME workers.
“I am out here today because I am also a part of a union on campus and I am here to support AFSCME workers,” McKusick said. “We have to stand together right now when labor is under attack across the country and at the UCs. I believe that AFSCME workers have every right to be making the contract demands that they are making and UC’s reaction has been insulting.”
McKusick also explained the correlation between what the union she is a part of is fighting for and what AFSCME workers are currently fighting for.
“I’m a part of the UAW and we have a lot of shared ground and demands with AFSCME workers such as getting sanctuary campus status for the UC and these are things that we can win if we all work together as students and workers on campus,” McKusick said. “It’s my hope that during these bargaining processes we can win some concrete victories for students and workers on campus.”
As a worker at the UC Davis Medical Center, Carla Alston schedules specialty appointments. Alston gave insight into why the picket happened to be on this particular day.
“Today is the 50th anniversary since the passing of our brothers at Memphis, Tenn.,” Alston said. “They were out here 50 years ago trying to fight for dignity and equality and fairness in the workplace here, and here we are 50 years later and we’re still fighting for that here.”
According to the Facebook event page for the picket, Feb. 1 is “the 50th anniversary of the two men whose deaths moved Memphis’s 1,300 sanitation workers to join AFSCME in 1968, stand with Dr. Martin Luther King, and strike for over 10 weeks against the same issues we’re dealing with at UC today.”
According to Alston, the UC is offering a contract that will yield only negative effects for workers like her.
“We’re hoping that UC regents will take into consideration what we’re trying to propose here at the bargaining table because what they’re proposing is not fair or equal,” Alston said. “The UC is offering zero percent pay raise for the next five years, raising in our health care benefits so we’re going to be paying more in healthcare costs with no increase in pay. They want us to have to pay more in our pensions and they don’t want to give us more staffing.”
Alston also believes that the staffing levels for workers at the UC Davis Medical Center is worrisome for both the workers and for those receiving care.
“Staffing levels are unsafe in the workplace here, so we’re trying to get that at safe levels,” Alston said. “It doesn’t only affect us, it affects anybody that walks into any UC campus. Many departments are so understaffed and overworked. There are a lot of departments with double-time shifts and overtime pay all the time because there is no staffing there and they’re tired and being taken away from their families and that is not safe.”
Chants and signs at the protest included sayings such as “Zero percent won’t pay the rent” — in reference to the zero percent increase in wages for the next five years that the UC has offered to service and patient care workers.
During the picket, a few of the organizers called together those in attendance to make an announcement that an AFSCME picketer at a recent rally at UC Berkeley had been arrested. The footage of the arrest can be seen on the AFSCME Facebook page.
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — firstname.lastname@example.org