September 27th marked the first day of Fall quarter at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). The Baytree Bookstore was packed with students purchasing books while the Baytree Plaza was filled with fraternities and sororities attempting to lure in the incoming freshman. At 3pm, women and men who are service workers at UCSC organized with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 initiated an informational picket for a fair labor contract. Workers, some with their families, were joined by student allies for a powerful rally sending a strong message to UC administration that AFSCME, the Student Worker Coalition for Justice (SWCJ) and graduate students organized with UAW Local 2865 are united in demanding that UC prioritize workers, students and their families.
“We’re fighting for quality student services,” says Ernie Encinas, a cook at UCSC since 2003. “In my time here, I have seen a lot of UC decisions that hurt good students services and education at the University. When UC refuses to prioritize full time work, it makes it impossible for us to give students the best. I work side by side with many students who are trying to support themselves, some who work several jobs on top of their school work just to get by. We have to make UC prioritize students because that’s who we are here for.”
Students and workers rallied and picketed for hours. During the demonstration, students who were waiting for books were given 2007-08 DisOrientation Guides where students share accurate, and therefore subversive, stories about the history of Santa Cruz, an introduction to the University, and guidance on gender, sexuality, racism, labor, immigration and corporatization. In response to the DisOrientation Guide and the demonstration, one freshman from Riverside who wished to remain anonymous said that she was glad she chose UCSC over UC Riverside.
AFSCME held actions throughout the UC system on this day to kick off their campaign for a just settlement in their next contract for service and patient-care workers. In a printed statement distributed at the rally, Maricruz Manzanarez, a senior custodian at UC Berkeley since 1999 explained that the workers are fighting for their communities. “Working at UC is not easy. It is shameful that we work at such a great institution, yet my co-workers and I have to use public service, like the free school lunch program, to make it. UC is one of the largest employers in the state and it is acting irresponsibly. Its poverty wages and unaffordable benefits are hurting our whole communities, not just our families. I think UC forgot we are human beings and that they have a responsibility to our communities.”
AFSCME 3299 represents 20,000 Patient Care and Services workers across the state. They are frontline patient care providers and technicians, custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, groundskeepers and security officers.
“We’re fighting for our families,” states Monica Martinez, a Care Partner at UCLA Medical Center since 2001. “Ever since I’ve worked ar UC, I’ve had to have a second job. It’s hard working 12 hour shifts, 6-7 days a week. It’s not like my second job is to buy a nice car or save a down payment for a house; it is just for basic survival, nothing extra. My four teenage kids and I share a two bedroom apartment. I keep hoping one of these days we will be able to get a three bedroom but every time I make headway, the rents go up too and it is always just out of my reach. It’s frustrating that even though I am working hard, even though I have two jobs — I am barely making it.”
In UC Santa Cruz’s Bay Tree Plaza, workers and students held signs declaring:
- Take Back the UC. Students and Workers UNITE!
- We have families too! Don’t let them SUFFER!
- Respect Reward Retain!
- U.C. please be fair
- estamos unidos, somos mÃ¡s fuertes, estamos ganando! (we are united, we are stronger, we are winning!)
- UC Can’t You See? Our Students Are Our Priority!
Crossposted at Indybay.org.