Campus workers and students across nearly all UC campuses protested for better service contracts to their respective chancellors on Nov. 1 in a union-organized effort.
“This is the year of unions. We’re fighting for fairness. We live in Santa Barbara, and we can’t afford to live here,” UCSB custodian and union leader Felipe Gonzalez said. “We are, like the chancellor says, the backbone of the university.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 (AFSCME 3299) organized this effort as the largest labor rights union, representing 30,000 workers at the University of California. Workers marched to their chancellors’ office and voiced their demands.
The last service contract negotiations between the union and university took nearly three years. From 2017 to 2020, there were six different worker strikes over contract disagreements, along with union pressure on visiting speakers to boycott UC events.
At UCSB, there were two organized walks to the Chancellor’s office on the top floor of Cheadle Hall. Around 50 adult service workers and seven students participated in the effort beginning at 8 a.m., and around 15 employees and 12 students participated beginning at 4 p.m.
AFSCME 3299 board member and the UCSB effort organizer Serafin Zamora listed some of the union’s demands as new service worker and patient care worker contracts include affordable housing, protected pension, healthcare and increased wages.
“We need to prepare and send the message: we are here to fight,” Zamora told the protest group at 4 p.m.
The assembled group chanted, “What do we deserve? Money,” “Union: power” and “When we fight, we win,” as they ascended the stairs of Cheadle Hall at 4:10 p.m. After 20 minutes of chanting outside the Chancellor’s office, Garry Mac Pherson, the vice chancellor for administrative services, stood before the crowd to listen to group member testimonies and sentiments. Chancellor Henry T. Yang was not present.
“Because of all the jobs I have right now just to have a basic living wage, I can’t afford the healthy food I need to sustain my medical condition as well,” fourth-year political science major Haley Weske said to Mac Pherson regarding working two jobs.
“We want a higher minimum wage because we need to be able to support our survival. We need to be able to support our academic future,” she continued.
When the group asked, “Do you support us?” and “Do you support the workers?” Mac Pherson said he would carry their message to the chancellor. Zamora gave Mac Pherson a packet of petitions for the new labor contracts.
“I don’t know if [the chancellor is] here, and I don’t believe he’s here. But I’m here to accept this on his behalf, and I will make sure he gets it. I promise you that,” Mac Pherson said.
The group left the building at 4:35 p.m., concluding the march.
Many workers from the dorm residences showed their support to the effort.
Esther Banulos, who does janitorial service for the dorms at Santa Catalina Hall and has worked at UCSB for 20 years, said to live in Santa Barbara with UC worker wages, “You need to have two jobs.”
“At UCSB, I only have money for my rent, and I have other job [from] 5 [p.m.] to 12 [a.m.] because I need to provide food for my family, my bills and everything,” Banulos said.
Martin Gurneros, who has worked at Santa Catalina Hall for two years as a custodian, said that if there was a strike for one week, the campus would fall apart.
“I hope we don’t get to that. If we get to that, we have to do it so they can listen to us,” Gurneros said.
Students, particularly from UCSB Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC), also supported the effort.
Pradeep Kundu, a third-year political science student and USLAC officer said it was important for students to support these efforts because they support students.
“We want to make it clear that if UCSB really cares for its workers, if they really believe that custodial staff, gardeners, people who work in dining halls are the backbone of this school, then UCSB and the UC system in general would be more than happy to allow them to get raises so they can afford to live here,” Kundu said.
Elisa Abondolo, a fourth-year political science major and member of USLAC, said although the United Auto Workers strikes were a big issue last year, more attention should be going to labor issues right now.
“I care a lot about workers rights. I think there’s not a lot of awareness of union activities on campus,” Abondolo said. “It’s important as students that we show solidarity because labor issues also affect us.”
Zamora anticipates if the university does not increase its wages and worker benefits, more employees will leave and contribute to university labor shortages, particularly with front-line workers.
“We see fast food, like McDonald’s, start paying more, including full benefits. But what about ours? We’re still in the limbo. We’re still low in wages here. That’s why we’re asking the UCs to increase the salaries. No one wants to apply to the campus when companies outside offer more,” Zamora said.
The UC service workers contract is effective until Oct. 31, 2024. The university and union will enter negotiations over the next year.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Nov. 9, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.