After the first few surprised impressions about how extraordinarily clean the UC Irvine campus is, it becomes second nature to take for granted how meticulous our campus’s landscaping, bathrooms and general upkeep is. Often we are so enchanted by the campus glamor that we forget the labor required for its upkeep.
We forget about the workers.
We forget that, after the Student Center closes, a crew of midnight custodians works through the night to restore it to its pristine condition. After leaving their eight-hour shifts at 7 a.m., many of them go on to another job in order to make ends meet.
We forget that the workers who take out our trash and clean our messes make wages that can hardly sustain a household. This public institution can’t even offer their workers livable salaries; many of these workers have to seek government assistance just to get by.
We forget — as we complain over ultimately trivial hurdles in our rat race toward degrees that will ideally pave the way to a middle-class existence — that workers are not only facing cuts to their salaries and benefits, but also face illegal pressure from their supervisors which curtails their collective bargaining efforts.
Here at the New University, we have been dedicating what seems like an inordinate amount of coverage to various campus activism efforts; however, as the workers prepare to engage in a strike against unfair labor practices, we want to remind our readers that the workers’ struggles are inextricably linked to those that we, as students, face.
We want to remind you that the workers have stood in solidarity with us time after time as we protested budget cuts against our education. Both students and workers are bound by a system that ceaselessly increases fees and decreases pay with disregard to how financial stress translates into daily struggles. This is a system we must actively seek to change together.
We want to remind you that the workers — without fail — do the labor-intensive work so that we don’t have to. They are providing a service.
These are the people who perform the tasks that our parents used to do for us before we left for college. As our surrogate parents away from home, they cook in our food courts, clean our environments and maintain the campus that we call home. After they perform these invaluable services they then have to return home and provide the same services for their own families.
In the spirit of community that we at this university claim to know and live so well by, we ask that you take the appreciation you have for these workers and turn it into action. As students, we have a personal stake in this issue: our tuition funnel. Tomorrow, service workers from all over the UC system will be striking under their union, AFSCME 3299. They will be striking because these unfair labor practices cannot stand, because they reserve the right to do so and no one should be telling them otherwise. They want the opportunity to bring something home to their families that will better their lives just as much as we do. They strike because they deserve to be treated better than this.
Many of the workers on our 10 campuses have expressed fear about raising these concerns. Through threats of termination or punitive measures for striking, this fear has been institutionalized by UC administrators. Striking in the face of such oppressive opposition is a testament to the dire reality that the workers are neither willing nor able to bear. It is in an effort to recognize the many voices of our workers that we write these words.
AFSCME 3299 service workers on all 10 campuses will be striking and will be joining fellow patient care workers in the union as well as graduate students and academic student workers from UAW 2865 and American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
We as undergraduates have the privilege to join them on the picket lines without fear. This is a chance for undergraduates to stand in solidarity with the workers and show that fear tactics have no place in our university.
We will not forget the workers.
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