The University of California refused to recognize the UC Santa Barbara Student Dining Labor Union on Feb. 21, but recommended expansion of the union’s bargaining units to a more UC-wide effort, according to a letter obtained by the Nexus. 

The University refused to acknowledge the Student Dining Labor Union. Mark Alfred/Daily Nexus

The Student Dining Labor Union (SDLU) is the first-ever UC dining hall union for student workers and gained official union recognition from the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) last month. Its campaign, which began in April 2022, includes higher wages, safer working conditions and better treatment for UC student employees. 

United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865 — representing 38,000 academic student employees — filed the petition requesting a bargaining unit specifically for campus dining hall workers. Its current bargaining units include Academic Student Employees, Graduate Student Researchers, Postdoctoral Scholars and Academic Researchers, encompassing over 36,000 workers across the UC. 

“The University doubts the appropriateness of the proposed unit and contends it is more appropriately organized as a systemwide unit including all Student Assistant positions,” the statement read. 

The letter clarified it is not contesting the right to form an undergraduate student-employee unit.  

The University disputed that the petition for a department-level unit was not appropriate under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA), specifically that SDLU could not have the right to choose the bargaining unit they are placed in. It also contests that HEERA is against splitting classifications in favor of systemwide bargaining groups.

PERB, the University argued, “has long held that bargaining units in the public sector should be the largest reasonably possible.” The letter advocated for a systemwide classification, as PERB has recognized 15 systemwide units at the UC, such as Patient Care employees and librarians.

The petition also cited issues with the dining hall workers being classified as Student Assistants. The University said it already had systemwide policies for sexual harassment and violence, anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection, among others, and that the classification of Student Assistant doesn’t qualify them for certain employee rights like retirement funds.

Student Assistant 1 is one of four classifications in this occupational group. There are approximately 530 Student Assistant 1s at the four dining commons out of 5,119 total Student Assistant 1s employed by UCSB, the University said. The unit leaves out workers at the University Center’s food court, Coral Tree Cafe, the Arbor and other non-dining common food establishments.

“The petition seeks to create a bargaining unit of less than 10% of this occupational group at the UC Santa Barbara campus, and less than 1% of this occupational group systemwide. Further undermining the validity of the petitioned-for unit, it does not even seek to represent all student employees within UC Santa Barbara Campus Dining,” the statement read.

Third-year aquatic biology major and student leader of the SDLU Jasmine Rebollar said SDLU took the UC response to require additional efforts before recognition “as the university just resorting back to their usual tactics of not wanting to recognize [SDLU].”  

“They are purposely trying to set in steps and barriers and delay and deny our union in the sense that they’re making it all-encompassing,” Rebollar said. “Because at the dining halls, as well as catering concessions, the responsibilities that we have are not similar to someone who is working in any other campus type of job.”

Rebollar cited the University response as being similar to the UAW postdoctoral unionization effort in 2008, where they were also asked to make a bigger bargaining unit before the University would recognize them. 

“By going bigger, it begins to not apply to the needs of the unit,” Rebollar said. 

Going forward, SDLU is organizing a “Pin Day” with all dining hall workers, concession workers and catering workers to exhibit solidarity and unity.

The Nexus will continue to report on this topic as more information becomes available.

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Feb. 29, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Lizzy Rager
Lizzy Rager (she/her) is the Assistant News Editor for the 2024-25 school year. She can be reached at lizzyrager@dailynexus.com