Hundreds of students, workers and community members rallied together at Storke Tower yesterday afternoon, as part of a UC systemwide strike by American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees 3299, a union that represents roughly 22,000 workers in the UC system.
Union workers claim University management has participated in illegal intimidation, coercion and threats to AFSCME-affiliated employees, in light of ongoing labor disputes with the UC. The union, AFSCME 3299, has been involved in negotiations with the UC regarding pension pay, wages and labor conditions since Oct. 2012, declaring a one-day strike at all nine UC campuses earlier this month. At UCSB, UC employees and their supporters came together at 6 a.m. at the East Gate of campus and proceeded to march to Storke Tower, where they remained for the majority of the day, with a rally held around noon.
One worker for Housing & Residential Services, who preferred to remain anonymous out of fear of potentially being “called into the office,” explained why workers took part in the strike.
“We feel that we’re understaffed big time,” the worker said. “There’s a lot of intimidation going on right now, there’s a lot of harassment … They’re pretty much trying to scare people. They’re not respecting us as workers.”
He said he is hopeful the strike will be successful in reaching University officials, saying union members only participate in such demonstrations because it is necessary.
“I think it’s going to work,” he said. “We don’t like to do this … we’re here to do our work and we want to continue doing that for the students.”
Rob Ackermann, unit chair of the union’s division for assistants, tutors and readers — UC Student Workers Union UAW 2865 — said many teaching assistants joined the strike because they also saw a need for change in UC employment practices.
“The goal is to never strike. People strike because something is wrong,” Ackermann said. “What’s wrong in this case is the intimidation of workers by UC management … The teaching assistants are choosing to support workers, and that’s really important to us.”
English professor Julie Carlson said UCSB faculty has a responsibility to support the needs of staff, services workers, graduate students and other employees.
“I think that faculty has a special duty to do on this campus,” Carlson said. “We are all in it together, and we need to support each other … That’s the power of the union. They are trying to put pressure on the administrators.”
While it can be difficult to strike close to final exams as papers are due and students want to speak with TAs, according to Carlson, students ultimately benefit from workers rights’ being respected.
“We do all care and we work deeply hard for our students, but actually student’s rights are better served by support for unions and for people where the higher administration is less interested in meeting their needs,” Carlson said.
Genesis Herrera, fourth-year sociology major and member of UCSB’s Student Worker Coalition, said workers’ struggles are as much a part of students’ struggles because there is a natural comraderie amongst the campus community.
“If workers aren’t treated well, if workers aren’t being paid well, and if they’re not given the benefits they need, it’s hard for them to serve us — which is the whole reason they’re here in the first place,” Herrera said.
Student-based issues like tuition hikes are related to worker-based issues, such as low wages, because they are all part of an overarching problem of nationwide economic inequality.
“The same people who are affecting them and their wages and their benefits, are the people who raise our tuition,” Herrera said. “It’s important to [have] solidarity with each other because when our tuition was being raised, workers supported us, too.”
The anonymous worker said he greatly appreciated the student support he witnessed, saying there was an impressive number of participants.
“Today we had a really good turnout,” he said. “We had a lot of regular employees that came out for the first time in a long time, and also a lot of students … we feel pretty good about what we did today.”
—Daniel Slovinsky and Elliott Wright contributed to this article.
Photos by Cameryn Brock, Peter Vandenbelt, Eric Swenson & John Clow / Daily Nexus.
A version of this story appeared on page 3 of the Thursday, November 21, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.