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Students Strike with UC Workers Over Alleged Illegal Outsourcing

by: Christopher Story

photo credit: Christopher Story

More than 100 students joined University of California (UC) employees and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) organizers to march through UCI in protest of the continual efforts by the UC school system to outsource lower wage jobs to private contractors on Nov. 13, 2019. 

The joint student-worker march left UCI’s flagpoles at 12 p.m. and made its way to Brandywine, where participants performed a demonstration that occupied the front entrance of the newly constructed student dining hall.

Protesters carried picket signs and wore green shirts that read phrases such as “UC greed has got to go” and “End UC outsourcing.” Sounds of blow horns were accompanied by chants alternating between English and Spanish. 

During the protest, a large green flag was held that signified the support of AFSCME Local 3299, which is a sector of the largest trade union in the U.S. that represents more than 25,000 UC service and health care workers.

The protesters marched through Ring Road and the Engineering and Physical Sciences departments, then continued through Aldrich Park. They stopped at Aldrich Hall for a final demonstration of chants and demands, shouting, “We’ll be back!” as the protest came to an end at 1 p.m. 

“Students are coming out in full support and showing the University they have to treat their workers better. I can’t say enough about the students, it’s really really awesome,” AFSCME Local 3299 organizer Jorge Serrato said.

AFSCME filed six new charges against UC with California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) over evidence that suggests unlawful contracting is being done in secrecy without consultation with the Union.

According to a California State Audit in 2017, UC has extended and renewed contracts while evading Union bargaining and competitive bidding through frequent amendments of such contracts. The audit further details that jobs being outsourced are now being performed by contracted workers at a much lower wage, some as low as $8.50 per hour for the same work that a minimum-wage UC employee would be carrying out. 

Additionally, evidence published by the State Legislature shows a trend in increased spending on outsourcing service and health care jobs by up to 84% at UC Medical Centers, which suggests that UC is investing in more long term contracts according to AFSCME

“If they keep subcontracting, at any time they can let us go,” UC employee Maria Munoz said.

In addition to the 2017 audit, a research report published in April 2018 titledPioneering Inequality,” revealed statistics showing the income disparity between race and gender among the employees of the University of California. 

The report states that UC’s lowest paid workers are 79% non-white and 56% female. Black workers earn starting wages 20% less than White workers, and Latinx workers earn 21% less than White workers. The research further describes a widening of an already drastic income gap between the UC’s highest paid workers and its lowest paid workers, in which the higher echelon employees make nine times that of a low-level employee.    

Student involvement has increased dramatically in the last year as a result of efforts by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)— a student based organization that organizes events for the student-labor movement at UCI.

With numbers growing from less than 10 to over a 100, an outlook on future student support is looking positive to third year UCI student and USAS representative Justine Ligaya. 

“I was never able to help my parents, I never had the power to advocate with or for them in some way. So it is nice for me to be able to help the workers here because it is a similar experience that they went through,” Ligaya shared.

Ligaya’s peer and fellow USAS member Marisabel Perez credits student support to a long history of a student-worker relationship at UCI. 

“They make sure the school is running for us so it’s just great to be able to support them and have those connections with them,” Perez explained. “When there was a potential tuition hike, workers were protesting with students with students to try and stop that … if we work together we will be stronger against the UC.”