Cal Dining student employees hold walkout, protest on Mario Savio Steps

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Cal Dining undergraduate student employees held a walkout and protest about noon Monday on the Mario Savio Steps, protesting their wages and working conditions while advocating a rollback of tuition hikes and the removal of the cancel for nonpayment policy.

The walkout and protest served as the debut of the Undergraduate Workers Union, according to organizer Christian Alejandre. Alejandre said all of the student staff at Crossroads Dining Hall  — about 30 to 40 workers — walked out during lunch hours in the middle of their shifts.

“I think the (turnout) was successful,” said Jessica Gonzalez, an organizer for the Undergraduate Workers Union. “I think it was very powerful and we were very strong and I’m very excited about what our next steps are going to be looking like.”

According to Alejandre, the union’s demands include a living wage calculated to the cost of living in the Bay Area, which union members believe is between $17 and $19 per hour. He said the walkout was intended to communicate the demands of the union to Cal Dining management and the campus. Alejandre said the union wants its demands met within 48 hours, adding that if they are not met within that time frame, the student workers union will respond later this week.

“The true cost of being a student is completely inaccessible and unaffordable,” said Lucy Tate, a campus student and Cal Dining employee. “We’re all here because we want to better our lives and get an education, but the institution that’s promising that is completely dependent on the poverty of our wages, so by coming together and demanding changes in the workplace … that’s the only way we can create change.”

The union is also demanding an end to exploitation and harassment in the workplace and a fair work environment with safe working conditions, as well as a clearer job description, Alejandre said. By forming the union, student staff hopes to convey their demands to university administration, including UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, UC President Janet Napolitano and Cal Dining managers.

Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff acknowledged the protest in an email, stating, however, that only 12 student employees walked out during their noon shifts at Crossroads and that service has since resumed as per normal. According to Ratliff, officials from the campus’s Residential and Student Services Programs are reviewing the matter.

Some of the bystanders at the demonstration said they supported the cause.

“I had no idea it was this bad,” said campus sophomore Jess Yang. “Banding together is the best way to influence change in higher management that won’t listen to you. They won’t listen to single students, but they will listen to a large group of students like this.”

Contact Ella Jensen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ellajensen_dc.