Union Action Sparks Awareness as Labor Issues Continue

The UC’s largest workers union, AFSCME 3299,  is still fighting for renewed service workers’ contracts with their latest protest on Nov. 28 and 29 at UCI Medical Center. According to a press release, the protest, which aimed to address UC’s work contracting and a potential wage increase among other demands, yielded a negative response from the UC, which called it “out of reality and not logical.”

Students and campus union workers marched to The Anteatery on Oct. 21 in support of students and campus workers who have been allegedly abused by Aramark, a private company which contracts food services for UCI.

These months of action have created a platform for workers to raise awareness of their plight with the student body.

October’s action was followed by the fifth annual Student Labor Organizing Conference, hosted by ASUCI and co-hosted by  AFSCME 3299, the University of California’s largest employee union; the University of California Student Association (UCSA); United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS); and the External Vice President’s Office at ASUCI.

Aramark, according to an anonymous AFSCME organizer, has been forcing non-union workers to work without necessary support due to UCI’s increased enrollment. “They are injured and fatigued because of the work, and in the afternoon, they sometimes do not receive their mandatory breaks because there are no workers to cover all the work that needs to be done.”

Workers and students have been kept anonymous to protect them from potential employer or academic conflict.

Students and staff marched to promote student labor solidarity, and to urge UCI to stop public collaboration with private company partners.

The Student Labor Conference highlighted the struggles of campus workers across the UC system to become unionized or get re-hired into positions they lost to contracted workers.

Both student and unionized UC workers are fighting to have their contracts renewed and updated with demands that will allow them to have fair wages and benefits for the amount of overtime they are doing to compensate for the lay-offs of unionized UC workers with contracted labor.

AFSCME 3299 is working to reinstate these unionized workers who have lost their jobs to these contracted laborers who often have less experience than union workers, which can translate to a less safe environment for both workers and the people they serve.

ASUCI has been fighting UCI’s tendency towards corporate backing and privatization which has been affecting both students and unionized workers. According to a presentation from USSA Conference 2017, many universities will “contract out” services such as food and janitorial or landscaping services to private companies, as UCI has with Aramark in order to receive cheaper labor.

The “contracting out” of workers often results in less job security but increased chances of unsafe working conditions and unfair wages. According to the same presentation, “these private entities often operate like private businesses – meaning their interests are in profit maximization, not worker’s rights or proper service.”

As a result of this privatization, corporations like Aramark and universities become complicit in prison industrial complexes, outsourcing labor to these contractors and essentially exploiting workers and in turn, inflating prices for those on the receiving end of the bargain, in this case, the students.

“We’re going to have another Aramark contract in three years, ago it’s important for students to know what Aramark is,” said Magaly Mendez, ASUCI Labor Commissioner.

Because of this, ASUCI has been working closely with both UAW and AFSCME 3299 unions through their Labor Commission to advocate for student workers and to stand in solidarity with the unionized campus staff and medical workers.

“We want to support communities and a lot of people don’t want to support the continuation of prison labor. So we would want to get Aramark off campus, but find an alternative to Aramark and the workers be insured, so they can be provided with unionized benefits.”

Many of the workers who work for Aramark are not unionized and as such are not able to receive the same benefits as unionized workers. Meeting these demands, according to Mendez, would make it easier for the university to transition to a new food service provider.

The best way to do that, Mendez argued is to make students a part of the conversation. “We need to develop these relationships now so we know where we will need to go in the future.”

Zoe Broussard, External Vice President of ASUCI said, “We need a platform to talk about the issues [workers] face.”

Taylor Williams, a member of ASUCI, attested to the impact more student participation  and increased advocacy would have on their efforts.

“We need two things: public affiliation, so we can show the city council or the person who is in charge here that ‘you guys support us,’ right, and the second thing is the personnel, maybe one or two people a quarter, maybe two to three times max, that way we’re not burning each other out. If we do these things, it’s not just five additional people, those people represent five additional organizations on campus so then they’ll take it more seriously.”