UCI Service Workers: No Longer Ghosts
by Ashley Meneses
She cleans the restrooms and buildings surrounding the campus, but is never noticed. She’s invisible — a ghost unable to talk or interact with the students or staff on campus. Her name is Guadalupe Jacobo, a service worker at UCI.
Jacobo is a forty- two-year-old woman with dark brown eyes and dark brown hair that is slicked back into a ponytail. She is about five foot two, and wears a gold butterfly earring at the top of her left ear. At UCI, she wears a blue shirt and black jeans as her uniform. She has worked at UCI for about eighteen years.
Her alarm goes off at 3:40 AM. She gets up, showers, and gets ready.
“My husband gets up too,” Jacobo explains. “He makes my lunch while I’m getting ready and since we only have one car he takes me to Santa Ana so that my ride can pick me up from there to take me to work.”
Once her ride picks her up from Santa Ana, she gets to work at 5:00 a.m. After putting her personal belongings in the lockers, she walks to her assigned buildings and opens up the classrooms, a process that takes about two hours. Jacobo needs to have all the classes opened before 7:00 a.m., so students can then come in.
She then makes sure that the restrooms and areas outside the buildings are clean. Jacobo finishes everything around 1:15 PM, but getting out of work does not mean she gets to rest — there is still more to her busy day.
Meeting her husband in Santa Ana, picking her kids up from school, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, cleaning — all arduous domestic tasks to accomplish before 10:30 p.m., when Jacobo goes to bed in order to do it all again the next day.
Years ago, she was working for the companies hired by UCI and she only gained minimum wage. Her husband did not have a job at the time, so he collected cans and bottles from the street and part of their income would come from that.
She explains, “We used to live in a garage because we weren’t making much but now thanks to God, my husband got a job in a recycling center and I got a raise so now we live in a house.”
The service workers were not a part of UCI but part of companies such as Able and ABM Janitorial Services that UCI hires. These companies did not give the service workers reasonable benefits and only paid minimum wage. Employees had to work holidays, were not given medical insurance and did not have sick days off.
“Our job wasn’t easy. I mean it still isn’t but it was much harder before,” she explained. “They would hurry us in everything that we did and were very unfair. We couldn’t even be seen talking with the students. We were basically ghosts to everyone.”
This changed when the service workers join a public service employee union, the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees).
Under the AFSCME, the UCI employees organized a campaign to unite all the workers together to march for their rights. These workers, Jacobo being one of them, risked getting fired by participating.
It took a couple of years of marching and fighting so that the workers could get insourced by the university, meaning that they would be paid directly through the school instead of an outsourced company. The last group of service workers were insourced in 2012.
Jacobo not only had the support of her family but also the students’ who joined the workers during their strike.
“I believe that you guys are the voice of the university and if you guys support us it means so much. It was so beautiful watching students come out to support us. I no longer feel like a ghost.”