UC needs to provide better conditions for workers

Workers uniting together with signs that read "UNITE, WORKERS UNITE, STAND TOGETHER, WORKING TOGETHER"
Olivia Staser/Staff

More than 210,000 employees help run the University of California, including thousands of lecturers, researchers, student staff members, managers, administrators, and patient-care and service employees. Each one of these workers deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and each one of these workers deserves decent pay, job stability and adequate benefits. The UC needs to do more to create better working conditions for its workers.

The 3,000 non-Senate faculty and 300 librarians represented by UC-AFT, more than 13,000 technical and professional employees represented by UPTE and more than 24,000 patient-care and service workers represented by AFSCME 3299 have been in contract negotiations with the University of California for several months. While the UC has labeled itself as an institution advocating equality and economic opportunity, UC administrators need to do more.

Many UC workers have struggled to meet basic needs with their pay. Forty-five percent of UC clerical, administrative and support employees reported having very low food security, and about 80 percent of UC workers often have to choose between buying food and paying rent. Nearly 70 percent of workers struggle to concentrate on work because of hunger. Only in 2015 did UC President Janet Napolitano create a policy stating that all UC employees who work at least 20 hours a week must earn at least $15 per hour. But $15 per hour is still inadequate for workers and their families when many of the UC campuses are located in some of the most expensive cities in the world.

As California’s largest employer, the UC should feel obligated to set a higher standard of worker respect. And as an institution of higher education, the UC should be prioritizing student and worker needs. As the UC surpasses “150 years of equality,” it should be working harder to achieve equity for its own workers.

The contract demands are simple: Workers need basic job security, living wages, and racial and gender pay equity. Yet the UC has still not met these demands and has instead outsourced jobs to unprotected, third-party companies, instituting layoffs, perpetuating pay inequities and failing to keep wages in pace with the real cost of living.

Our workers are the reason our university functions. They are the Bear Transit drivers who make sure we get home safely at night, the cooks at Crossroads, Cafe 3 and The Golden Bear cafe. They are the librarians who teach us how to use OskiCat, the pharmacists, psychiatrists, dental hygienists and aides at the Tang Center. They are also our proctors, mail processors, maintenance workers and custodians. These workers support students every day. By urging our administrators and regents to increase pay and meet worker demands, students can return the favor. Now more than ever, UC students must support UC workers.

The newly formed coalition of UC organizers and labor union leaders crafted the following list of demands in order to candidly communicate how we believe the UC can be worker-friendly.

The UC should provide livable wages and stable benefits and retirements to all UC workers and end pay inequities. This would ensure that UC workers are able to keep up with the rising cost of living in California and also reach some sort of security in terms of their basic needs.

The UC should also end subcontracting practices and instead hire 100 percent insourced, unionized labor for all new campus construction projects. Outside contractors receive low pay with no benefits for temporary work. The UC should be allowing workers to build a career and provide for their families.

It is also critical that the UC terminate all direct and secondary ties with federal immigration agencies and divest from companies such as General Dynamics Information Technology, Maxim Healthcare Services and ABM Industry Groups. The UC must be in solidarity with its undocumented students and workers and reject the practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The UC should prohibit the deployment of all police and militarized forces, including UCPD, to actions on campus. Incidents such as the violent arrest of UC employee David Cole in February 2018 prove that the deployment of police on our campuses often does not end well.

The UC needs to guarantee academic freedom to academic librarians as currently granted to Senate faculty, lecturers and students. As employees of one of the biggest library systems in the country, librarians are essential to the functioning of the UC.

Finally, we ask that the UC satisfy the bargaining demands of all UC labor unions as they continue to bargain for fair contracts.

UC workers are the backbone of this institution. There is no UC without its workers. Students must now and always be in solidarity with our workers. We must continue to pressure our university administrators to meet the demands of UC labor unions because students and workers deserve better.

Sarah Abdeshahian is the ASUC campus organizing director, a UCSA board member and a member of the UC-wide Student Coalition for Campus Labor Justice.