UC Davis custodians protest management treatment

GEORGE LIAO / AGGIE

Human resources grants meeting, continues hashing out concerns

UC Davis custodians from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 conducted a work action on May 22 at 4:00 p.m. in the UC Davis Human Resource Administration Building. At issue were work-related actions taken by Finis Jones, the director of Custodial Services at UC Davis.

An interview request was made by The California Aggie to Jones, who declined to comment.

Benny Contreras, a senior custodian at UC Davis and a 37-year employee of the university, participated in the work action. He spoke about the reasons they protested.

We had an event that is called an action,” Contreras said. “I am a union member of 3299, and we are taking action against our director, Finis Jones, because he is implementing some work actions that we do not have time to [complete]. Our union is bargaining right now, and he is not supposed to be making any kind of changes, but yet he is.”

Contreras said Jones is adding additional work to their schedules, although he and his colleagues don’t have the time to complete the extraneous workload.

Contreras expressed optimism that an official from UC Davis Human Resources agreed to meet with them.

“We were protesting with our signs and yelling, telling unfair treatment, […] finally the labor relations director came out,” Contreras said. “They have been avoiding our meetings, so now she says, she will meet with us tomorrow from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Hopefully, that will get done. I am surprised that she came out actually.”

Contreras further commented about the actions taken by Jones as well as the the length of time this has been occurring. Contreras said that temporary workers were not hired to cover for sick or vacationing custodians.

“Jones does not want to hire no more workers, no temporary people,” Contreras said. “We are so stressed out. When a person is out on vacation or call in sick, we [have] to assume that eight hour load plus our eight hour load. Jones does not want to hire temp people, yet he is going to buy phones for every custodian on campus with a GPS, so they can monitor [them]. What is that all about? We need workers. We need help. We don’t need no phones for everybody.“

Jones referred The California Aggie to Julia Johnson, the labor relations manager for Employee and Labor Relations at UC Davis and UC Davis Health, who subsequently referred The California Aggie to Kimberly Hale, the interim director of News and Media Relations for UC Davis.

Hale confirmed that after the initial worker protest took place a subsequent meeting was conducted between HR and the custodians.

“What I know of the situation is that a group of about 25 to 30 employees and students [had gone] to HR wanting to be heard about their concerns,” Hale said. “That stemmed from the [strike] earlier in the month […by] the unions that are currently negotiating with the University of California as a whole on their union labor agreements. As I understand it, this group went to talk to share some concerns and to talk with some folks, so Johnson […] did go out that afternoon to understand what their situation was and set up a meeting for the next day.”

Hale said that the custodians and HR are continuing their conversation. Hale also said that the workers and HR are continuing to “work through” the issues.

Regarding the complaints about Jones, Hale offered what she understood about the situation.

“I am not sure I can connect those two dots, because I was not there [at the meeting],” Hale said. “I did not know [more] about what their concerns were. What I do know is that they did voice some concerns about staffing levels and other [matters] that the HR Office of Labor Relations and the Office of Finance […] are still in discussion with.”

Contreras was asked about what students can learn from their protest.

“First of all, let me say thank you to them,” Contreras said. “Most of all, […] thanks to the students, because they can help us. The thing is this can affect them too. You know they are raising prices on their tuitions every year and nothing is getting done.”

Blanca Centeno, an executive board member of AFSCME 3299, offered the union’s perspective on the protest.

“We just organized this action to let them know, so they can hear our voice,” Centeno said. “They can hear our concerns, because they are putting a lot of workload increases on the department. And not only that, but people are being mistreated — very disrespectful and they are not being treated with dignity either. We do not want any of our fellow workers to fall into a problem by mistake.”

Martín Giron, a fourth-year community and regional development and Chicano/a studies double major at UC Davis, joined the protest in solidarity. Giron also participated in the three-day strike held by AFSCME 3299 from May 7 to May 9 and wanted to lend his support for the custodians.

“While I was in the strike marching alongside those workers, I was able to build kinship with them as well as continue fighting for their struggles,” Giron also said. “We just received word [about] how the university administrators who directly work with the union such as the custodial supervisor is micro-managing and intimidating these workers as they continue to go without a fair contract.”

Giron wants the student population to learn about the reasons behind the labor dispute.

“I think one thing to recognize is specifically how this goes unseen at a lot of different levels,” Giron said. “We have to recognize our own privileges as students, and whose voice gets uplifted in the narratives of struggling at the university. It is oftentimes the university employees such as the lowest-paid workers in AFSCME 3299, [who] do not get their voices uplifted.”

Destiny Padilla, a second-year community and regional development and Chicano/a studies double major, agreed with Giron’s stance.

“[Giron and I] are with the group United Students Against Sweatshops [at UC Davis],” Padilla said. “What really brought me out here today is noticing that the struggles the workers and students face are interlinked because the greediness of the [UC]; the increase of the pay [and] the increase of the administration getting higher pay cannot secure a fair contract with these workers is really telling [about] what they think of these workers and what they prioritize on this campus.”

Padilla said that labor protests were common in the past and still occur today.

“Students should learn from these protests that it is not something new,” Padilla said. “I would like to highlight: ASFCME has, every four years, [been] asking for a contract, and they usually have to go on strike like they have before. I think that students need to realize when they are advocating and fighting for issues on campus, these are happening right under their noses. We are the future. We are the next generation to continue in workplaces, and if we do not try to change these conditions now, it is going to continue to happen.”

Contreras explained what the custodians want from their management.

“Just to be treated fair,” Contreras said. “Just to be treated right with, respect. We are humans, we got families, we got goals. Just because we are custodians does not mean we are not people.  All we want is to be treated fair, be treated right — no more no less.”

 

Written by: George Liao — campus@theaggie.org