Midday, March 16, many UCSB workers used their lunch breaks to join AFSCME Local 3299 in front of Cheadle Hall, asking, in the words of organizers, “Chancellor Yang not to place the brunt of the budget cuts on students’ and workers’ backs.”
Yang was not on campus that Wednesday, as it turned out, but Associate Vice Chancellor Ron Cortez was. He stood at safe distance observing as various speakers delivered grievances into a loudspeaker.
Among those in attendance was a man who identified himself as Edward, active with AFSCME Local 3299. He spoke for the crowd when he said they were sick of “taking one step forward and two steps back.” He was referring to attempts to talk to administrators, who, he said, always refer them to the UC Regents, in a never-ending cycle of communication without results. “Our unions here are just part of the puzzle,” he concluded. “We need to get community leaders who represent the community members.”
Other speakers included Kristi Rank, executive committee member and representative to the Statewide Executive Board of CUE Teamsters Local 2010. She spoke of her family’s criticism of her involvement in the union. But she argued that the “idiotic relationship between employers and employees” is just a system; that employees don’t owe anything to their employers in the end, if they aren’t treated with respect and reasonable, living wages.
Bob, a service worker who attended but did not speak in front of the crowd, has been working at UCSB for 11 years. His many duties include emptying trash cans and landscaping. His specific worries concern retirement. “They give you $1,900 per month if you qualify. You qualify after 20 years of employment.” He thinks he’ll make it another five years before his body and age will allow no further physical labor. “I’m going to have to leave the area — I won’t have enough money to make the rent,” he said. He added that he thinks the regents are using service workers as scapegoats, blaming them for a lack of funds while simultaneously depriving them of funds, rather than attacking the problem at its root.
Edward reiterated Bob’s point when he described a story he once told the chancellor about a female employee who worked at UCSB for 20 years. In 1990, she lived comfortably, making $2,100 in a land where home prices were around $1,600. Home prices are now double, but she makes only $1,000 more. He said, “Today we want to know: Where did the money go? There’s a lot of corruption, and it starts at the top.”
After he spoke, Edward called Cortez over to the group from where he stood in the periphery. When asked what Yang’s response would be to AFSCME’s demands, he said,” I can’t speak for the chancellor … I have those papers, and we’ll be discussing them later with the chancellor.”
Sgt. Matthew Bowman of the UCSB Police Department expressed enthusiasm about the event, saying, “This is an example of democracy in action on campus.” He mentioned the police union, and stressed that the some seven police on site at the small event were “neutral participants,” on scene to protect the workers’ right to gather as much as to keep the event under control.
Felipe Rodriguez-Florez, a 2007 women’s studies graduate from UCSB, also spoke. He said that ever since he lived in Mexico, he’d heard about UCSB as a world-class institution. “But now it’s crumbling before our eyes,” he said. “It’s running like one of the worst corporations, you know, like Wal-Mart!” Rodriguez-Florez said that the UC needs to “listen to Main Street, not Wall Street. Listen to workers, and not to executives.”
Julian Posadas, vice president of AFSCME Local 3299, wasn’t planning on speaking that Wednesday, but he effectively closed the meeting with a heartfelt, impromptu bilingual speech. “My message today is that we’re clearly under attack … Where is the money that was taken from us or that we gave to them? How did they use the money? They should be proud of our work — we’re doing more work in less time, and most of us are happy to be here! We say, ‘Gracias por este trabajo.’ (‘Thank you for this work.’)” He seemingly saddened with this truth as he said it: “Coalition work is the hardest work on earth,” he continued. “We all have different solutions to the same problem.”