Letter to the Editor

Worker Student Alliance Addresses Drake and the Campus

UC Irvine’s web page for the Office of the Chancellor extolls the virtues of our campus. It calls on the UCI community to uphold, in words and actions, the core values of our university: respect, integrity, commitment, empathy and appreciation. Yet, Chancellor Michael Drake and UCI administration have failed to lead by example.

UCI administration is directly responsible for the exploitation, poverty wages and oppressive working conditions of the 150 custodians who currently work on our campus through the subcontracting firm ABM/One Source. Students, workers and union representatives have demanded action on the part of Chancellor Drake to put an end to this unfair and unjust situation. Hiding behind bureaucratic red-tape, UCI administration still refuses to “Live Our Values” and recognize these 150 custodians as full UCI employees, with the benefits and pay they have earned and rightfully deserve.

These custodians are important and longstanding members of our UCI community. Many have worked on our campus for close to 10 years; some have worked for more than 20. They represent the institutional backbone of UCI, allowing the day-to-day activities of our university to go forward through their hard work and commitment. But their contribution has gone unacknowledged by UCI administration, which decided years back to subcontract custodial work in order to protect its economic interests and profits.

By subcontracting, companies can legally wash their hands of any responsibility to the workers exploited for their benefit. For decades, many companies have used subcontracted labor to break union contracts, do away with union jobs in order to avoid paying adequate wages and benefits and to prevent workers from organizing.

Even worse, subcontracting firms prey on economically and politically disenfranchised populations, especially communities of color and women. As victims of institutional racism and sexism, these workers usually find it difficult to obtain the resources needed to fight back; therefore, they are exploited more and more by subcontractors.

At UCI, the story is the same. The mostly Latino/a workers hired as custodians by ABM/One Source make only $9 or less an hour, even though many have worked at UCI for five or more years. They have no vision and dental insurance, no retirement plan and only one sick day a year. Many are forced to work two jobs to survive, and though their children attend local K-12 schools, attending UCI remains impossible due to the poverty wages they receive for working on our campus.

In failing to act and hire these workers as UCI employees, Chancellor Drake and UCI administration demonstrate their complicity in and willingness to condone such racist and exploitative attacks on the very communities our university claims to serve.

UCI administrators will claim that subcontracting benefits students, because it keeps costs, and thus, student fees, down. The reality, however, is that student fees have risen over 90 percent in the last six years. All the time, real wages for UC campus workers have stagnated, not even keeping up with inflation and the cost of living.

On the other hand, UC regents’ and administrators’ salaries and bonuses have skyrocketed. Apparently, UC regents, chancellors and administrators are more concerned with their CEO-like lavish salaries and bonuses than with the well-being of UC campus workers and students.

In short, “subcontracting” for workers equals racism, exploitation, abuse and neglect. This injustice and discrimination on our campus must stop now. Chancellor Drake and UCI administration must “Live Our Values” and move forward by formally recognizing these 150 custodians as full UCI employees. They must stop putting economic self-interest and bureaucratic red tape before the well-being and needs of these longtime UCI community members.

By still refusing to do so, Chancellor Drake and UCI administrators abandon our university’s core values of respect, integrity, commitment, empathy and appreciation. Instead, they endorse very different standards for our UCI community: racism, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

For information on how to support the campaign and join the workers’ struggle, contact The Worker-Student Alliance at uciwsa@yahoo.com.

Dennis Lopez
Graduate student in the English Department