Minutes after Storke Tower delivered its 7 a.m. chime on Wednesday, hundreds of UC Santa Barbara employees pulled out their picket signs, raising retrofitted yard sticks as they began a one-day strike.
Representing the masses were two workers’ unions: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3229 (AFSCME) and University and Professional Technical Employees (UPTE). Dining commons employees, custodians and even researchers all contributed to the variety of professions under the umbrella of these unions.
AFSCME and UPTE have been negotiating new contracts with the University of California since 2017. AFSCME has gone on strike three times during this period, aiming to get better pay and retirement benefits.
UPTE initiated the call for Wednesday’s strike; AFSCME, as well as several United Automobile Workers 5810 (UAW) members, later joined in solidarity and support of their shared interests regarding the result of UPTE’s ongoing contract negotiations with the University of California.
“Our goal is to have the university recognize how important it is to us, where we’ll take a day without pay to try and get these fair wages and maintain our healthcare plan,” said Michael Holford, a member of UPTE who also works in UCSB’s Communication Services department.
As part of the strike, union workers made beelines around campus – from Henley Gate to Cheadle Hall – in a demand for better treatment by the UC.
Babe Gonzalez, a representative for AFSCME 3229 and a Student Health employee, said the UC’s current offer to employees does not accommodate workers’ needs.
“UC is wanting to give us a lump sum of money in exchange for job security, in exchange for outsourcing jobs,” Gonzalez said, noting the UC’s lack of attention to what she believes union workers really need: “We need our job to continue. We don’t need a lump sum of money.”
Another concern voiced through the microphones involved livable wages. Jarrod Coldron, an AFSCME representative, former UCSB student and present-day groundskeeper at the university, said he is fearful that the cost of living in Isla Vista might force him out.
“I really like my job here, but it’s really expensive to live in Isla Vista, and if I don’t have a good contract, I won’t be able to afford to live here as long as I want to,” Coldron said. “I’m just trying to keep this affordable for me.”
As the only groundskeeper currently residing in I.V., Coldron explained that his coworkers often commute from other areas in the county to work.
“I think I’m the only groundskeeper on campus that lives in l.V. Everybody else is in Lompoc or Carpentaria. A lot of people live far away and bus in,” he said.
However, according to UCOP representative Claire Doan, the UC finds that UPTE is asking too much from the institution and has been unreasonable with their demands.
“We are disappointed with UPTE leadership, demanding unreasonable double-digit raises (16 to 22 percent over the proposed terms of the agreement) that are far beyond those given to other UC employees. Since negotiations began in 2017, our offers have been fair and substantial, guaranteeing competitive wage increases and excellent benefits,” Doan said in an email with the Nexus.
“Meanwhile, UPTE leaders have neither presented a realistic counteroffer, nor have they let their members vote on UC’s proposals.”
Gonzalez said she believes the UC’s resistance to forming a better contract is derived from a poor understanding of the situation. At a university, Gonzalez said that a vital function of the workplace is “to make sure that they are respectful of their members,” which includes students at UCSB.
“UC doesn’t seem to realize how important we are. We are the first contact when a student comes to the Health Center, when they’re having someone clean their dorms … They don’t go to the offices to see people. They don’t know who they are, they know who we are, and they know that we care,” Gonzalez said.
Gary Colmenar, a librarian at UCSB, offered a similar sentiment.
“I think it’s really important for us to tell the administration that we’re the people who actually work and run the university,” Colmenar said, who also noted a dry spell in contracts for the library’s worker union, University of California American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), which has dragged on for over six months.
Throughout the day, waves of union employees marched through campus with chants, aiming to not only build energy, but also to voice their complaints.
At noon, multiple speakers spoke at a rally for the workers, all of whom funneled the sentiments of those chants into the messages of their speeches.
When Oscar Soto, a graduate student at UCSB, took the stage, he turned the microphone to the crowd and began to ask them questions.
In response to the question: “How many of you are undergrads?” many students raised their hands. A substantial, but fewer, number of palms raised in the air when Soto asked how many workers were graduate students.
But zero hands broke the plane when he asked if anyone was a professor.
“What does this tell you about the university?” Soto asked in response to his own questions. “What does it tell you about the importance of what they [UC] put in front of the table?”
Gonzalez finds that the lack of support from upper-level employees at the UC, such as professors and administrators, has led to a revolving door of frustration for many campus employees. As a result, workers such as Gonzalez say they can feel trapped in a web of negotiations, oftentimes going on strike multiple times in an attempt to bargain with the university.
“There’s no empathy, no feelings. It just seems like all of the UC Regents have all their retirement cut out, they have their pensions, they have their raises, and they do a lot of work, but they have to realize that we’re valuable,” Gonzalez said.
“We’re family, we’re family with students, and they don’t have that connection like we do, and if they did, they’d really appreciate helping down the line.”
Further photos of the strike can be viewed here.
Updated [March 23, 2:31 p.m.]