Neither police presence nor rain could deter about 150 UC students from marching up the steps of University House on Sunday to rally for contracted workers’ rights.
What was initially an action scheduled as part of the UC Student Association’s annual Students of Color Conference escalated into a march to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ home. Students reached the residence about 10:45 a.m. and began chanting for Dirks to come outside, some holding a large sign that read, “Dirks is a racist.”
The University of California has been at the center of ongoing controversy regarding its use of contract workers, who receive lower pay and fewer benefits than UC employees. In October, multiple campus demonstrations brought attention to UC Berkeley’s affiliation with Performance First, a janitorial services company being investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor for allegedly underpaying its workers.
“The goal is to have all the contracted-out workers who are demanding to be insourced to be insourced, to have a UC job,” said David Lemus, a UC Berkeley senior who attended the protest. “And they’re all people of color.”
About 11:15 a.m., Kristian Kim — a UC Berkeley senior and member of the Student Labor Committee — hopped over the gate that three UCPD officers had been guarding. Nearly every one of the approximately 150 students, not all of whom were conference attendees, followed Kim up the steps and congregated in front of University House’s front door. Some carried a sign that read, “#JUSTICE4UCWORKERS.”
The students continued their chants, such as “Whose UC? Our UC” and “First you get the students, then you get the power.” A few also repeatedly banged on and vandalized the door, writing “Dirks where you at?” and “Fuck the UC & fuck you.”
Standing at the base of the door, rain now sprinkling down on them, several protesters delivered short speeches about the power of organized student action. The crowd continued to call on Dirks to come outside and address its demand for the insourcing of UC workers, but Dirks never addressed the protesters.
After hearing reports of potential increased police presence, the crowd filed back down the steps about 11:45 a.m.
“As people know, that is the chancellor’s private residence, and we need to think deeply about what our response as a community is when lines get crossed,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “At some point, it’s no longer a protest. It’s more like the action of a mob.”
The UCSA later expressed its support of the student-led demonstration in a press release, even though the organization had not planned for the action to intensify past a rally on the steps of Sproul Hall.
“Students were motivated to action by the solidarity they feel for our brothers and sisters who work at the UC,” said Iman Sylvain, UCSA university affairs chair and member of UC Berkeley’s Graduate Assembly, in the release. “Students and workers of color feel personally attacked by the exploitation of contract workers, who work the same jobs as permanent employees without the job security, benefits and rights they receive.”
After the rally, most of the protesters participated in the final hours of the Students of Color Conference — three days of speeches, workshops and caucuses tailored to underrepresented-minority students across the UC system.
The conference has a 27-year history and was hosted at the Berkeley campus for the first time since 2006, according to the ASUC external affairs vice president’s chief of staff, Ismael Contreras, whose office helped plan the conference.
While he acknowledged that the scope of the protest was unplanned and difficult to manage, Contreras said he believed that students were entitled to demonstrate against contentious UC labor policies.
“Obviously, when there is an action of this scale being planned, it’s sort of hard to control for other elements that will be at play,” Contreras said. “I think that the protest that happened is the manifestation of a lot of the frustrations that students do have, and they’re very legitimate.”