Study shows 7 in 10 UC workers struggle with food insecurity

Phillip Downey/File
Teamsters Local 2010 stage a protest in front of California Hall in August 2016 demanding living wages and greater pension benefits for UC workers.

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A study released this month by the Occidental College Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, or UEPI, found that more than 70 percent of the University of California’s clerical, administrative and support workers suffer from food insecurity.

Teamsters Local 2010, a union for UC workers, introduced the issue of food insecurity among UC employees to the UEPI a couple of months ago, according to the study’s co-author, Megan Bomba. UEPI surveyed members of the union to collect data on the topic.

According to the study, the level of food insecurity for UC employees is one and a half times higher than that of UC students and five times more than food insecurity levels of California and U.S. residents. The study also stated that 58 percent of the employees who responded have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 38 percent did so at a UC campus.

“We were appalled … at how prevalent it was systemwide.” said Christian Castro, communications coordinator of Teamsters Local 2010. “It really shows that this is a systemic problem in every campus, in every location across the state.”

Food insecurity, according to Bomba, is when an individual struggles to put enough food on the table to survive. She added that someone is considered food insecure when they cannot afford to buy enough food for themselves or their family.

The problem of food insecurity is prevalent among UC workers, according to Castro, due to their lack of adequate funds.

“UC is an institution that should be an economic powerhouse in California and promoting growth in their communities, yet they’re paying poverty wages to their own employees and community members,” Castro alleged.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said in an email that while the university could not comment on the study, as it has not yet examined it, the university has been bargaining in good faith with the union regarding a systemwide contract.

Klein added that UC workers’ concerns of fair compensation are legitimate, and that as a result the university implemented the Fair Wage/Fair Work plan last year in an effort to voluntarily adopt a minimum wage program that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour next year.

Joseph Meyer, a worker for UC Berkeley’s Campus Shared Services who participated in the survey, has experienced food insecurity himself and knows of others who have as well.

“I skip every breakfast just to save money,” Meyer said. “There are times I have to sacrifice certain foods to buy my prescriptions … and none of us should have to do that.”

Bomba said although UC workers need to have higher wages, worker food insecurity is not unique to the UC system. The wages UC workers are paid are probably similar to wages of other workers elsewhere, Bomba said.

A rally to spread more awareness of food insecurity among workers will be held Wednesday at noon in front of University Hall, according to Meyer.

“It’s the question of really understanding that many people are underpaid and many people are suffering, even if they’re well above the poverty line,” Bomba said.

Contact Semira Sherief at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @semshreif1.