The University of California System has a long and proud history of union strikes which are often utilized to stand up for every worker’s right to fair pay, appropriate benefits and equal treatment.
Unpopular Opinion: unions have begun to abuse their right to strike at the expense of the students they claim to care for.
From Monday, May 7th until Thursday, May 10th, 2018, Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents service workers and patient care technical workers at UCLA, went on strike to protest the gender pay inequity, the lack of raises and rising healthcare premiums. Members of the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) and the California Nurses Association (CNA) joined AFSCME in a sympathy strike on May 8 and May 9. As a result, classes were interrupted, UCLA dining services were cut in half, dorms weren’t cleaned and services for the 10,000 residents on the Hill at UCLA came to a halt.
It was inconvenient, but most Bruins respect the democracy we live in and care more about workers’ rights than the food variety on the hill in the short run. However, when AFSCME chose to strike again in October, sentiments were a little less positive.
At 3 pm on October 22, 2018, UCLA Housing Services informed students of an impending strike about 12 hours before it began. The three-day strike took place from October 23, 2018 at 4:00 a.m. through October 26, 2018 at 4:00 a.m. and UCLA Food Service, Custodial, and Storekeeping employees were represented by AFSCME so dining services, mail services and housekeeping services were all impacted. Consequently, only the four residential restaurants were open during this period: De Neve, Covel, B-Plate and Feast at Rieber.
Some additional changes were noted and a contingency plan was put in place, nonetheless, students had less than a day’s notice to prepare for interruptions. There is never a good time for a strike on a quarter system and many students had midterms and assignments due that week. Students were unable to access food after 9 pm which is a drastic change from the norm of food being available until 2 am. Many students have night heavy schedules and had no time to prepare for the fact that Late Night at De Neve and The Study at Hedrick were going to be closed in addition to none of the usual restaurants opening during the late night dining period. But people didn’t complain. Strikes are part of what makes America the free country that it is and no one wants to impede that.
But where does it end?
At 3:30 PM on Monday, March 18th, 2019, the first day of Finals Week Winter 2019, UCLA Housing Services released a statement regarding the next strike. This time, they graciously sent out the notice 36 hours before the strike is scheduled to begin. AFSCME is back at it, representing UC Patient Care Technical (PCT) and Service bargaining-unit employees this time around. They plan to strike from March 20, 2019, at 4:00 a.m. through March 21, 2019, at 4:00 a.m. Once again, only four dining halls will be open and there will be no access to food after 9 pm, even though students will be awake cramming for exams all night and if anything, are in need of extended hours this week, not limited hours.
If the first two strikes were simply inconvenient, this one is arguably cruel. The strike itself concerns hospital workers, not campus workers but because AFSCME is representing thousands of workers across various fields, they join each other in solidarity every time there is a strike. Therefore, the workers that ensure the hill runs smoothly such as mailroom workers, housekeepers, and dining workers have joined in solidarity, once again, potentially at the expense of student academic success.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Study at Hedrick is packed to capacity every hour of finals week and shutting down access to food at such an integral study space will impede studying, students with premier meal plans are dependent on access to quick-service restaurants to spend their excessive swipes and anyone leaving on Wednesday will be forced to absorb that loss at no fault of their own. Additionally, many students save swipes to show their families what UCLA dining is like when they’re being picked up for spring break, but that will not be an option for many students this quarter. Similarly, students with a regular meal plan will miss integral meal periods and may be unable to use their swipes before they head home.
Shutting down UCLA’s normal dining services during finals week not only interrupts the flow of studying, but will likely result in many students attending exams hungry as they cannot be bothered with navigating the contingency plan during the most stressful time of the quarter.
Furthermore, UCLA Housekeepers do not work over Spring Break so any people living in dorms that are normally cleaned on Wednesdays may find themselves with dirty bathrooms without access to toilet paper over the coming break. What’s more, anyone who ordered something to UCLA, expecting it to arrive before they leave for spring break may not be able to access their purchases before they leave since the mail center is expecting delays that will impact flow through the end of the week due to this strike.
I can discuss the inconveniences of a labor strike for days, but I think we all know that this will negatively impact students.
Although this subject remains taboo, the goal of this op-ed it to start a conversation:
- Where does the right to strike end?
- Should it end when it infringes on student’s right to an education?
- At what point do students have the right to complain that the services they pay thousands of dollars a year for are not being provided during integral times?
- Should solidarity strikes be permitted when they impact student learning?
Until AFSCME and UCLA answer these questions, students must exercise their right to speak up and demand the answers we deserve.
On a positive note, Our Kosher Table on the 2nd floor of Hillel at UCLA (574 Hilgard Ave) accepts swipes and is not on strike. Any students impacted by the strike can go get a hot lunch in an uncongested dining hall after a final if they want.
Good luck on your finals!
P.S. I hope no one reading this has to take a final while hungry due to the impending strike.