Although the UC Irvine administration succumbed to pressure to consider bringing subcontracted workers in-house last week, months of waiting and unresponsiveness has led these workers and their supporters to remain cautiously optimistic.
The announcement was made while laborers and activists gathered at the University Club for a candlelight vigil, which was to be held in front of Chancellor Michael Drake’s house on Thursday, Jan. 26.
Before any announcement had been made, workers, students and organizers waiting to begin walking toward Drake’s house voiced their various grievances.
Hermillo Perez, who works at Pippin Commons, explained that although his pay had been slightly increased, his hours had been decreased, which cancels the intended benefit of the raise.
‘This year, they gave us a 30- or 40-cent raise [per hour], supposedly to help us a little bit,’ Perez said. ‘But then they took away four or five hours from our work.’
Another worker, Veronica Martinez, complained that all the workers had to pay $44 for their own parking and do not get reimbursed for it.
Before the vigil began, word came that the UCI administration will consider hiring these workers directly.
The statement was made by Juan Castillo, an organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
‘Today, we have been receiving phone calls from the university trying to stop this vigil, which is important to us,’ Castillo said. ‘Well, I am proud to announce that today, the chancellor of the university talked to our director in Oakland and he agreed to bring all the workers in-house.’
As Castillo translated this message into Spanish through a megaphone, clapping and cheers broke out in support of the progress made. The planned vigil was cancelled.
Initial reactions included jubilation and cautious optimism about the possible resolution to months of demonstrations directed toward the university’s administration.
‘I just wanted to say that right now, we only have a tentative agreement, that we still have to work out the details, but victory is ours,’ Castillo said.
One of the many student organizers was Daisy Chavez, a fifth-year comparative literature major. She expressed hesitation at the thought that the fight for higher wages was over.
‘Definitely, we haven’t reached our goals yet,’ Chavez said. ‘The news just arrived that the chancellor is now preparing to meet with the [workers] to talk about in-sourcing the workers. However, that is a tentative agreement. So we’re not having the vigil anymore, but we’re still working on this campaign.’
Several student groups were present to support the workers, including Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan and Students for Peace and Justice, although there were other students who were simply concerned about the issue.
The candlelight vigil was to be held in front of Drake’s house in order to draw attention to the fact that UCI chooses to pay its top administrators six-figure salaries, while other workers on campus, who are paid near minimum wage, struggle to provide necessities for their family, including health-care.
After Castillo’s announcement, workers took up their familiar chant, ‘