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On Jan. 26, 2009, 50,000 people in the United States were laid off. On Jan. 27, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on UCSB’s campus asked for a $6,000 raise per employee as unemployment hit a record high of 9.3 percent in California, 2 percent higher than the national average. Over 2,300 students will be cut from UC admissions, and tuition will go up an additional 10 percent on Cal State campuses, 9 percent for UC campuses, and a possible 5 to 24 percent increase for UC law schools and medical schools. Gov. Schwarzenegger plans on cutting the UC budget by $275 million, and may eliminate the Cal Grant program. AFSCME, I’m sorry for your low wages, but now is not the time or place to ask for wage increases.
We have lived in a bubble for our college years. We kick it at the beach, party on the streets and get hyphy on weekends as our economy collapses around us. A striking 2.7 million jobs were lost last year, most in the last few months of 2008. One hundred and seventy-five thousand jobs have been lost this month, and as we saw on Monday, it’s possible to lose a lot more in the coming few days. California legislatures are long overdue on a budget as our deficit climbs to over $40 billion. Don’t expect a tax refund this year – California will be issuing IOUs. And yet, as thousands lose their jobs, and billions of dollars are lost, AFSCME has the nerve to ask for money that should be spent elsewhere.
“UC workers are paid poverty-level wages!” We keep hearing that over and over again. The UC system offered to pay the workers last year a minimum of $12 an hour, or $24,960 a year, $4,0000 higher than the poverty level. Along with this, the service workers receive a retirement fund and a good health plan. However, the service workers are asking for a $15 an hour minimum wage, or $31,000 a year. Taking into consideration that everyone would have been paid at least $12 an hour, and there are 8,500 AFSCME employees in the UC system, the union is asking California to pay an additional $53 million dollars a year by increasing the wages to $15 an hour. That would make up one-fifth of the budget cut to the UC system this year. This is not feasible in our economic situation, and is an unreasonable demand. Yes, government workers get paid less than their counterparts in the private industry. However, a government job is more secure than a private industry job. In economic recessions, those workers have to worry less about losing their job than the 50,000 who lost their jobs on Jan. 26. In a time like this, that is a good trade-off.
The protests on this campus just do not make sense. We argue against construction that would allow 5,000 more students to come here and in the process create good construction jobs, but protest the loss of 2,300 students UC-wide and argue that the people who already have jobs do not get paid enough. We complain our tuition is too high and fight to maintain student services like CLAS, but we reject asking for military contracts to finance our physics and engineering departments and raising taxes.
Right now our money needs to be focused on community colleges and infrastructure development. Community colleges will make sure those in a financial pinch will have a cheap, affordable path to a university. With loans scarce, this option would be better for many. We need to worry about creating new jobs for the 9 percent unemployed in California, not increasing wages for government jobs that already exist. If you have a full-time job with health care benefits, you’re lucky. In a few years, when the economy rebounds, you will hopefully get that raise you fully deserve. Until then, let’s work on getting those without a job onto payroll.