Amid blue and yellow balloons and people wearing “I Heart UCLA” shirts, a group of students in the middle of Bruin Plaza stood out.
Several dozen students, some holding drums and posters, stood and listened to speeches before starting a march planned by graduate students and members of Occupy UCLA. The march was part of a May Day rally to draw attention to the effect of the state budget crisis on University of California workers.
May Day, or International Workers’ Day, is held annually on May 1 and often includes demonstrations by labor unions and workers. A larger demonstration took place in downtown Los Angeles.
The goal of the UCLA march was to advocate for a stronger connection between students and workers, and to stand up for workers’ rights, said Erin Conley, an English graduate student and the southern vice president of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union.
“We’re all here because we’re part of this community,” Conley said at the rally. “We’re not just students that stand apart from UCLA, we’re connected.”
Katherine Stone, a UCLA School of Law professor and an expert in labor and employment law, said that because of the budget cuts across the state of California, workers have been negatively affected.
While she said it would require a legal change to alter the pensions of current workers, there is a proposal in the UC to lower the pensions of future workers.
The proposal comes from the UC Office of the President, which is negotiating with representatives from the University Professional and Technical Employees union.
The negotiations were stalled because of disagreements over pension benefits and retiree health benefits, according to a UCLA statement.
Because of cutbacks and layoffs of state employees during the recession, current workers do more work, Stone said.
“Not only do people lose jobs, but those that are left are put under extra pressure with extra work,” she said. “They are also feeling even more precarious, and I think that’s a big part of the budget crisis which is a worker’s crisis.”
However, UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea said there have been no changes at UCLA in service workers’ conditions recently.
“The benefits that (service workers) are receiving, the conditions, everything is reflected in the current agreement,” he said. “Their working conditions, benefits and salary have not deteriorated recently.”
Service workers’ wages were raised by 3 percent last October, and will be raised by another 3 percent this October, Ritea said.
At the rally on Tuesday, students marched from Bruin Plaza around campus, stopping briefly at sites that had a large workers presence such as Ackerman Union, Murphy Hall and Covel Commons.
At each site, students would read a speech that explained the rally and would often chant “same energy, same fight ““ students and workers must unite.”
There were a few police officers sent to campus to monitor the rally, but no problems were reported, said Nancy Greenstein, police spokeswoman.
After the rally, about 45 students took a bus in the afternoon to join the larger May Day rally in downtown focusing on amnesty for undocumented immigrants. The bus was organized in coordination with MeCHA de UCLA.
Conley said that because some workers in the UC system are undocumented, she thought the cause was important for students to support.
Stone also said that because many issues faced by workers, such as trouble finding jobs or being underpaid, are elevated for immigrants, it is natural to have connections between immigrant causes and worker causes.
“I think worker issues and immigrant issues have gone hand-in-hand for a long time in Los Angeles,” she said. “Immigrant workers have been very important for the L.A. labor movement.”
Cheryl Deutsch, the president of the union representing teachers’ assistants, readers and tutors, was among the students heading to the downtown rally.
“Today is a cool day because it’s a student movement here on campus, but today is also workers’ day, and many of us are also student workers,” she said.