Guest Commentary: Labor Relations at UC Davis in Light of COVID

A 2019 labor strike at the UCD Medical Center

by Maria Martinez

The University of California currently rests on the periphery of a massive decision, to make massive cuts to our students and workers or to use a tiny portion of their endowment and capital reserves to prevent all austerity measures and maintain the integrity of education at UC.

According to research done by AFSCME 3299, the UC has upwards of $10 billion dollars it can use in the short term to cover all COVID related costs and to maintain a safe environment for its students and workers[1]. However, UC Davis administration is known for a lack of transparency when it comes to addressing the needs of students as evidenced by their handling of violence against minority students on our campus and by UC Path.

Further, UCD has failed to address issues of systemic racism by continuing its business relationship with Aramark, a company that profits directly from the private prison industrial complex.

Essentially, the University of California is a system that does not respond to community needs regardless of its plentiful resources, so we must come together as students and workers to ensure that we have access to a safe and quality education.

AFSCME 3299 is a union representing 27,000 service and patient care workers across each UC campus and hospital. They are the frontline workers keeping us safe while being denied PPE and they are the workers who have fought for racial/gender equality by winning the right to insource 10,000 privatized UC workers.

However, these heroes, as the UC fondly calls them, will be among the first to face massive layoffs. Already eight workers of color have been set for termination at UC Hastings due to “budget cuts” and the UC has already threatened a $500,000 cut to undocumented student resource centers[2].

These initial cuts are a sign of what is to come, massive layoffs, tuition increases, increased class sizes, and cuts to student resources. AFSCME 3299 understands that the university fabricates images of artificial scarcity in order to justify these austerity measures which is why the union has dug into the reality of just how much liquid cash this $40 billion dollar enterprise has on hand.

According to 3299’s research presentation, the UC has over $5 billion in excess capital liquidity reserves, an additional $5.2 billion in unrestricted endowment funds, and they have already liquidated $2 billion in excess capital reserves[1].

Meaning that the UC has over $10 billion readily available to support the campus community before even accessing any loans. AFSCME 3299 uses this information to say that while it fights for increased state funding for students and workers, that the UC must make use of their endowment and reserves to avoid any and all austerity measures at UC.

We can see these issues play out on our own campus through the lack of responses to issues with UC path and paid leave, the presence of white supremacists on our campus, as well as the violent attack on students protesting peacefully by a campus supervisor. UC Davis admin did not address the incident in which white supremacists wearing a blue lives matter flag as a cape entered the cross-cultural center, a safe place for BIPOC on campus.

This sent a message to POC and especially blak students that admin showed a lack of care for their safety. Another instance of the admin’s lack of response occurred when a group of students protesting at Tercero dining commons was attacked by a supervisor on campus who drove his truck through their picket line.

The UC Path transition left hundreds of students without pay for work they completed, for up to two months. This led to both food insecurity and difficulty paying rent which could have led to possible evictions. UC does have the power and resources to address these issues but chooses not to.

Simply put, UC could have addressed the issues with UC Path by using its multi-billion dollar endowment fund to pay students immediately rather than offering loans to students affected.

Furthermore, one can see the link between UC Davis’s contracts with Aramark and recent events surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Aramark is a private company that the UC partners with in food services on other UC campuses as well as laundry services to UC Davis. This company is a part of the prison industrial complex as it provides prisons and jails its services. Ultimately, these public private partnerships result in lower quality of service for work that the UC could do on its own but chooses to prioritize profits and efficiency.

Thus the UC’s have a direct investment in the harms perpetuated by the prison system upon communities of color and the disproportionate rates of police brutality and arrest rates of Black folks. On a more local level, one can see this disregard for BIPOC students through the lack of tangible solutions for students in this current moment of grief.

No attempts have been made or initiated by the administration to limit the role of UCPD on campus or address the militarization of its forces. Historically, police have always put property over Black lives and continue to do so.

The incident that took place last spring in the UC Davis Bookstore is just one example of the police violence that has taken place on our campus. An even more recent example is the sending of UCPD to reinforce and escalate state violence against peaceful protests in Oakland, CA. As one can see, the interests of the UC lie with profits and keeping operations running as they are rather than listening to and addressing the concerns of its students and workers.

Ultimately, the university fabricates the image of being poor in order to manufacture the consent necessary to lay off workers, increase tuition, increase class sizes, hyper police its students and to cut resource centers.

We know that they have more than enough cash on hand to avoid all of these austerity measures, but we also know that the community is not their priority. Therefore, it is our duty to push the UC to meet the demands of the Union Coalition[3] which include child care, pay continuation, deprivatizing student housing, and student debt forgiveness as well as to push for our own needs for reduced tuition, improving class sizes, access to counseling, and expanding resource centers.

The first test of our strength comes when layoff protections for the workers that maintain our access to a safe and equitable education end on July 1st. Now is not the time to minimize our demands, but much rather the moment we define the UC experience for the next several years.


[1] AFSCME 3299 Research Presentation on Available UC Endowment and Capital Reserves

[2] UCD EVPSA Letter to the Regents Against Undocu Resource Center Cuts

[3] Demand Letter from Union Coalition and UC Faculty Association

Maria Martinez is the External Affairs Vice President at UC Davis for ASUCD

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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