Students and Workers Unite

Phuc Pham | New University

Phuc Pham | New University

Students join UC employees in protesting against high executive pay and calling for fairer standards for the workers.

Editor’s Note: It has been revealed that for the student conduct hearing, there was no such video that supposedly caught graduate student Jordan Brocious assaulting UCI staff during the Nov. 8 protest on campus.

The ASUCI Office of the Executive Vice President partnered up with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to stage a protest against what they perceive to be high executive pay this past Thursday, Jan. 31. They also promoted fair and safe staffing standards for AFSCME 3299 workers, who are in contract negotiations with the University of California. The event was part of a system-wide protest, as it was also staged across all five UC medical centers and all 10 UC campuses the same day.

AFSCME 3299, which constitutes 20,000 workers who work for the UC, organized the protest in the same month as the UC Regents’ meeting and the announcement of UC President Mark Yudof’s end of his five-year tenure. At the Regents’ meeting on Jan. 17, California Governor Jerry Brown criticized UC executive pay. It has been reported that Yudof, who has received an annual base salary of $591,000 since his appointment in 2008, is expected to receive an annual retirement package of at least $230,000.

The protest at the UCI campus began at the flagpoles, where dozens of workers, students and members of UAW Local 2865, a union representing over 12,000 Academic Student Employees (ASEs) — readers, tutors, TAs and others — at the nine teaching campuses at the UC, gathered. Several organizers encouraged passing students to take a student survey regarding UC tuition, funding and other financial matters in exchange for free pizza.

Jorge Serrato, an organizer from AFSCME 3299, kick-started the protest by introducing several workers at UCI and translating their statements from Spanish to English.

One such worker was Carlos Candelario, who has been working as a groundskeeper at Arroyo Vista Housing for five years. “The reason that we are here today [is] to let UC know that our contract, the service contract, has expired as of today, and we want UC to negotiate a fair contract with us, and so far, they haven’t done any of that,” Serrato translated.

Candelario also spoke out against Yudof’s pension plan.

“Our dearly beloved president of the UC, Mark Yudof […] is taking with him $230,000 [a year] for the rest of his life out of the pension system, and at the same time, he is asking all of us to put more money out of our paychecks to fund his retirement. It is unfair, it is unjust and we’re not going to support it,” Serrato translated.

Shortly after, the protest was put into motion, as the people prepared to march through the entire Student Center, around the campus on Ring Road and ultimately end up at Aldrich Hall.

Holding up signs and shouting chants like “They say cut back / We say fight back / They say go away / We say no way,” the protestors trooped through the Student Center Terrace and into the West Food Court, where they looped around once and went back out. After chanting in a circle outside of the “Before I Die” Wall, they headed to the flagpoles, where they began their march around campus on Ring Road, heading in the direction of the Social Sciences.

The protest also happened to coincide with the student conduct hearing for physics and astronomy graduate student Jordan Brocious, who received a student conduct charge for assault by the administration following the Nov. 8 “Prop. 30 Won’t Save Us” protest on campus, which he participated in.

On that day, Brocious was part of a group of protestors who entered The Hill, where a physical altercation allegedly took place between the protestors and UCI staff. The protestors claim that they were the ones who were assaulted, but it was reported that there was a video that supposedly caught Brocious assaulting the UCI staff.

Brocious, who was participating in the contract protest this past Thursday, went into his hearing, which was being held in the Student Life and Leadership Office, with a small group of fellow protestors, who wanted to show their support.

The rest of the protestors headed back to the flagpoles before congregating in front of Aldrich Hall after being joined by Brocious and the others who went with him. A delegation composed of employees from different university departments, housing, facilities and dining areas, along with Serrato, who acted as a translator for the workers, headed into the building, where they met with Ramona Agrela, the Associate Chancellor and Chief of Staff to UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake.

The delegation communicated to the administration that under the current contract negotiations, they feel that the university is not negotiating with them in a fair manner. Their last contract, which lasted five years and expired on Jan. 31, detailed their wages and working conditions.

“The employees feel that the university is simply trying to take away the employees’ benefits when in fact the employees know that the university has been making an enormous amount of profit based on the university’s business dealings,” Serrato said.

The UC and the employees plan to reconvene for negotiations on Feb. 7 and 8. “We are hoping that the university has come to understand that these employees are not willing to accept the proposals that the university has put forward, and we are hoping that the university will change their proposals,” Serrato said. “The [new] contract can’t be signed until the university and the employees come to an agreement.”

For Candelario, he is hoping for a contract that is better than its predecessor. “The last contract, it was good, but it wasn’t good enough to live under California living wages,” Andrea Gaspar, the ASUCI Executive Vice-President, translated for him.

Candelario believes that ultimately, the students and the workers are fighting the same fight. “The work that we do is to help the students so that they have a quality campus area,” Gaspar translated. “At the end of the day, we’re going to find each other and fight the same fight.”

“[As students,] we never really stop and think about [the workers’] lives,” Gaspar said. “We never really stop and question, are we really giving them a fair contract, are we really respecting them as human beings? I think we take them for granted … they are also going through the same struggles as us, and we need to fight together.”