I am one of more than 80 mostly full-time valet workers at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. We work for ABM, a contractor that provides contract services to the University of California. We are often the first and last people to interact with UCLA hospital patients and their families.
Most of us have been working at UCLA for years for a fraction of the pay that the UC provides to directly employed workers doing the same jobs. As a result, many of us work two or three jobs to provide for our families.
And there have been ramifications from the work. At UCLA, we work around exhaust fumes all day. Some of us have developed respiratory conditions because our management has chosen to turn off ventilation equipment where we work.
Until recently, we were paid less than UC’s own minimum wage and were told by our employer that we did not qualify for it. The UC, however, promised in 2015 as part of its wage policy to audit contractors annually to make sure they wouldn’t shortchange workers like us.
They didn’t. And they let ABM’s lie go unchallenged.
Then, just months after ABM workers came together to demand that UCLA force our employer to comply, UCLA announced that most of us would no longer be working here.
UCLA created only 36 in-house positions for an operation that currently requires more than 80 contract workers, and ABM has not guaranteed reassignment to every worker, despite what UCLA claims it was told by ABM. More than half of us are now facing de facto layoffs.
The work we do will still need to get done, though. UCLA announced plans to replace most of us with student workers, who are not covered by the UC’s minimum wage policy.
Uncomfortable as this may be for university administrators to hear, these are the facts.
And they highlight an all-too-familiar theme across the UC system: a consistent and blatant disregard for low wage contract workers.
For the last five years, I worked hard at UCLA to provide for my family. So, when I’m being cheated out of fair wages, it means my two boys are being cheated out of a fair shot at the American dream.
That’s why I spoke up about my employer’s violation of the UC’s wage policy. And it’s why I’m speaking up now as the UC moves forward with plans to discard most of us.
Marisol Ramirez is an ABM worker at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.