UCI Workers and Students Stand in Solidarity with Unions

(Former ASUCI President Tracy La represented the Korean Resource Center at the event. Photo Courtesy of Norbert Tsi)

Students, faculty and union members gathered at the UCI flagpoles on Monday, Feb. 26 to stand and speak in solidarity with unions and academic workers. The rally was particularly focused on the current Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.

As the UCI rally and similar events around the nation occurred, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case that many workers are saying is an attack on unions. The plaintiff Mark Janus is an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. As a government employee, he is required to pay thousands in fees and dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). This is according to the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case which ruled that state and local government employees must pay union dues. However, Janus is attempting to have this overturned. He no longer wants to support the union and wishes to negotiate his own salary and benefits. The union argues that overturning Abood is problematic because it would result in “free rider” workers who would benefit from the union’s collective bargaining despite not paying fees.

At Monday’s rally, members of the Korean Resource Center, led by former ASUCI President Tracy La, performed on drums and a number of speakers took to the podium to voice their support of unions and union workers.

“Injustice is dressed up in so many faces and colors,” said ASUCI President Lydia Natoolo. “We are here to say we stand in solidarity, to say that we hear you, to say that we see you and to say that we will do whatever we can as student leaders to share your stories.”

“All workers, including academic workers, are crucial to the success of this university,” said ASUCI External Vice President Zoe Broussard.

A few speakers pointed out that a ruling against the union will hurt more than just members. Juan Castillo, a leadership development coordinator for the University Professional and Technical Employees Communications Workers of America Local 9119 (UPTE CWE 9119) union, said that workers’ salaries and benefits are better in the presence of unions.

“We need to continue organizing because it is important, not only for our employees, but it is important for our community as well. We need to show these dark forces that we are strong,” said Castillo.

“Janus is an undisguised effort to destroy not only the political effort of unions as institutions, but the lives and bodies of workers themselves,” said Annie McClanahan, UCI English professor.

Professor McClanahan went on to say that the ruling won’t just be detrimental for workers.

“It would also affect students, whose ability to get financial aid might depend on a clerical worker in the Teamsters, whose mental health might depend on a healthcare provider in UPTE, who might need a flu shot from a nurse in [the California Nurses Association], whose ability to walk safely through campus depends on the skills of folks in [the State Employees’ Trades Council], whose meals are made and served by our brothers and sisters in AFSCME.”

Additionally, as a tenure-track professor, McClanahan said that tenure professors tend to take their status for granted, but the outcome of Janus affects them too. She stressed that if unions are abolished, tenure status is next.

Mitchell Brown, a UCI librarian and union member, explained why unions are so important.

“[Without unions] your voice will no longer be heard because you don’t have enough money, or you don’t have an organization behind it that says this is what’s allowed and this is what’s not. When did the Constitution simply stop enforcing the rights of its citizens?”

The Supreme Court’s official decision will not come until early summer, but the outcome is predicted to be split along party lines with liberals voting for unions and conservatives voting against unions. Thus, the vote would be five-four in favor of Republicans. If this is the case, unions will face significant cuts to membership and funds.