The evening before AFSCME 3299 settled upon a contract, students gathered within Humanities Hall to offer their support at a Town Hall meeting for students and workers as AFSCME prepared for what was to be a five-day strike that has since been canceled. The Worker’s Justice Town Hall was held last Wednesday as a joint collaboration between ASUCI’s Office of the EVP, United Students Against Sweatshops, and the Worker’s Justice Coalition.
Students made a strong showing, as seats were quickly filled, with late comers forced to stand in the back or sit on the floor.
The speakers for the evening included student organizers Lisa Lei and Jennifer Alvarez, AFSCME 3299 representatives Jorge Serrato and Oscar Martinez, UAW campus chair Robert Wood, and a number of service workers.
Lei challenged attendees by questioning what it really meant for students to work alongside workers in earning a fair contract.
“The workers are always by us when we need them, so we need to be there for them when they are fighting for this contract,” Lei said.
Alvarez, an intern for AFSCME, stressed the importance of standing in solidarity with the workers in light of the support that workers have shown students in the past. Workers donated generously to Prop 30, the Proposition responsible for the current tuition freeze. It can be argued that it may have never passed without their support.
“Every week these workers don’t have a contract, it’s less time that they get to spend with their families, it’s less food they’re able to put on the table for them, it’s another job they have to pick up.” Alvarez said.
Through an open forum, workers alleged that in order to maximize profits, the university has been firing many of the veteran workers in order to bring in new employees at a much cheaper rate while continuing to charge students more.
“When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Rather than operating this institution of the public, they are sort of using this set of principles that don’t really make sense for public education,” Robert Wood, the campus chair for the UC Student Workers Union, said.
Oscar Martinez, who has worked at UC Irvine for over 17 years, understands all too well the struggle of attaining workers’ equity. Before the agreement was reached, Martinez was already looking ahead to the expiration of his next contract, and how he’ll once again have to fight for a new one.
“He will always continue fighting, and he would rather die standing than kneel and beg from his bosses,” translated Serrato, who concluded the Town Hall with an impassioned speech reiterating the source of the worker’s motivation.
“We are fighting for making our life here as best as possible because we are basically chained to this university 8 hours a day, 365 days a year, and our experiences need to be the best that it can. For the trade-off of our time, we are providing resources for our families. If we are coming to a job or a location that makes us feel terrible, then what does that say about the rest of our lives?”