About 300 people gathered at noon in the Arbor on Thursday to protest the standstill in negotiations between the University of California and service workers requesting an increase in wages.
Chapter 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) held a one-day strike, opposing what it called unfair bargaining practices by UC. The union represents about 7,300 food service workers, janitors, bus drivers and nurses at the nine UC campuses, five medical centers and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Paul Desruisseaux, associate vice chancellor for public affairs, said 69 of the 433 AFSCME employees at UCSB did not report to work today. As of noon Thursday, he said there had been no interruption to classroom instruction because of the strike.
The Coalition of University Employees (CUE), People United for Economic Justice Building Leadership through Organization (PUEBLO), the Student Action Coalition (SAC) and Student’s Party also participated in the protest.
Demonstrators gathered in the Arbor and walked to the Student Affairs and Academic Services Building (SAASB), eventually ending the march in front of Cheadle Hall.
Before the protesters marched to SAASB, Bill Shiebler, state affairs organizing director, addressed the crowd in front of the Arbor.
“Too long we’ve been waiting and nothing has been happening,” said Shiebler, who is also running as SAC’s candidate for Associated Students president. “Talking is not working anymore. We need to be working in solidarity with each other.”
Vu Nguyen, UCSB’s local organizer for the strike, said picket lines were also set up in front of Francisco Torres Residence Hall, Cheadle Hall and the east gate of campus.
“Everyone was short-handed today, especially at Francisco Torres,” Nguyen said. “Ninety percent of the employees [at FT] did not come to work today. The only people working were supervisors and students.”
As protesters gathered outside the SAASB, Cynthia Croak, UCSB director of human resources, spoke to the group.
“You are very much apart of the UC system and we do appreciate your work,” she said. “We recognize that your wages are the lowest.”
Protesters then migrated to Cheadle Hall, where Donna Carpenter, acting vice chancellor of administrative affairs, spoke to the crowd and said she hopes the negotiations will be resolved soon.
“We appreciate the work that you do,” she said. “[The University] wouldn’t be running without you.”
Chancellor Henry Yang also came to address the group after several protesters demanded his presence.
“I want to thank you for what you have done for this university,” Yang said. “I will urge [the Office of the President] to come up with an agreement as quickly and as expeditiously as we can.”
According to an AFSCME press release, UC service workers voted by a 92 percent margin in mid-March to strike because the University does not offer enough training, opportunities for promotion, or high enough wages to union members.
The contract for service workers expired June 30, 2004 and was extended to January 31, 2005. Since July 2004, the AFSCME bargaining committee met with UC management 27 times, the press release said. After no agreement could be reached, an impasse was declared, causing negotiations to enter a state-mandated mediation and fact-finding period.
Chris Rabe, a 19-year member of AFSCME and an employee of UCSB’s Transportation and Parking Services, said he came to the protest dressed as a doctor to illustrate his “ailing” wages.
“Our raises are flat-lined — [they] need medical attention,” he said. “My check does not go the same distance that it did two years ago.”
Rabe said low wages cause stressful financial situations for service workers.
“Everyone in this union works paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “Not one can afford a house in Santa Barbara.”
Maria Gordon, a member of CUE for three years, said she joined the union after she found out how much employees were being paid.
“They need to pay decent wages to people,” she said. “It’s so simple that you think it could be solved reasonably quickly.”
Gordon said she thinks the chancellor and other administration should communicate their support in writing.
“If they are sincere in their statements of support then they need to communicate that and they need to do it in writing as much as the bargaining rules permit,” she said. “I want them to find a way around the rules to make a point of supporting the staff and not hiding behind the rules.”
After the protest, Shiebler said he decided to help organize the strike with AFSCME and CUE after looking at the disputes between the UC and labor unions over the past year.
“[UC] is putting profits before people; it needs to be people before profits,” he said. “As students we are prioritizing it, but why aren’t the staff?”
Felicia Cruz, A.S. external vice president of statewide affairs, said she came to the protest because she understands the challenges that face low-income families.
“I understand how hard it is to get by,” she said. “You expect to support your family. My job is not only to fight for the students but to fight for the workers that are asking for the living wage.”
Harley Augustino, executive director of PUEBLO, said 15 to 20 people from his organization came to stand in solidarity with the service workers in Santa Barbara.
“The university should not be balanced on the backs of the workers that make it function,” he said. “They serve food, clean bathrooms — that work should not be taken for granted.”