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Protest targets union rights

By Kimberly Young

Apr. 29, 2007 9:14 pm

As police officers stood by, about 20 Associated Students UCLA student workers sat in a circle in the street on Westwood Boulevard on Saturday, blocking the increased traffic brought to UCLA by the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

As part of their campaign to unionize, students staged the protest to bring community attention to their efforts, they said.

“We blocked the street because it’s about getting our message across to the Los Angeles community,” said Maricruz Cesena, a third-year sociology student and student organizer of the campaign.

Most of the students involved are food workers for ASUCLA, staffing restaurants in Ackerman Union and around campus, and they are trying to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Local 3299.

In March, students went to the ASUCLA board of directors to ask for support in their unionization efforts. On April 20, the board released a statement saying while it respects the right of workers to unionize, it is legally bound to remain neutral on the issue.

“While (Assembly Bill) 1889 precludes the board from taking a position on unionization, we have long been committed to listening to and addressing the desires and policy concerns of our student employees,” the statement read.

The board also said in its statement that it does not have the authority to change the University of California’s contract with AFSCME, from which students are currently excluded.

One of the students’ arguments is that they currently do the same jobs as career workers and non-student workers who are unionized, but receive lower wages and fewer benefits.

Students and career workers marched together on Saturday, blocked the street, and passed out fliers at the Festival of Books.

The protest also addressed low wages, affordable tuition and diversity at UCLA.

According to data released by the board, student workers typically receive starting wages between $8.25 and $8.75 per hour, compared to the California minimum wage of $7.50.

Though the sit-in lasted five minutes, the protest lasted more than an hour, as protestors marched from Westwood to UCLA.

Many students said they thought the protest was effective.

“I think the demonstration was successful because a lot of people were stuck in traffic, and while we were passing out fliers at the Festival of Books, a lot of people were reading and looking at our information,” Cesena said.

The march began with speakers on the corner of Le Conte Avenue and Westwood Boulevard, where workers spoke.

“I live paycheck to paycheck,” said Monica Martinez, a career worker at the UCLA medical center.

“I have two full-time jobs and am seriously considering getting a third one. I won’t be able to afford to send my kids here,” she said.

Students and career workers next marched through Westwood and then to the medical plaza, where the sit-in was held. Police were waiting as the marchers had notified the police in advance of their plans.

“We worked with the police because we didn’t want to cause a big disruption or scene. It was just to get our point across. We wanted to send a message that we want to work with UCLA,” Cesena said.

Police had already started redirecting traffic at the sit-in location when the students arrived. About 20 students and a few career workers then formed a circle along one lane on Westwood Boulevard.

Protestors chanted for several minutes, then dispersed after being warned by police.

But Cesena said that in the future they might decide to stage sit-ins where students would get arrested.

From there students proceeded onto campus, chanting and passing out fliers on the way.

Cesena said what they do next will depend on how students feel. She said they are working on getting student signatures and then will bring them to ASUCLA.

Third-year sociology student Arely Ortez, who is an ASUCLA student worker, said she disagreed with the board’s decision to remain neutral because students are not attempting to change the entire UC-AFSCME contract, only the contract at UCLA.

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