On April 5, 2017 student workers of the Undergraduate Workers Union (UWU) at UC Berkeley occupied the main on-campus dining facility, Golden Bear Café (GBC) to demand the return of stolen wages by our employer, CalDining, and a living wage that reflects the cost of attendance and living in the Bay Area.
By “living wage,” we are not asking for a minimum wage; rather, we are demanding a wage that reflects the increasing cost of living in Berkeley and the wider Bay Area and attending UC Berkeley, which means a wage of around $17 an hour. The UWU is also demanding compensation for stolen wages from CalDining, which, over the last five years alone, amounts to over $60,000.
The five-hour occupation of GBC began at noon and resulted in a complete shutdown of business for the rest of the day, costing CalDining approximately $29,000 in sales. The student workers who occupied GBC were chained together around cash registers while students and community members rallied in solidarity outside the facility. The occupation ended with the arrest of 17 student workers by UCPD, demonstrating that CalDining would rather have its student employees arrested than respond to our call for fair and adequate compensation. The shutdown of GBC was accomplished by 20 students, and cost CalDining nearly $30k. With a workforce of nearly 500 student workers and hundreds more in alliance with the union, the UC better believe we’re prepared to shutdown business so long as they continue to exploit the people who keep their facilities running.
“We’re demanding a living wage, not wage theft. We work too long for too little, doing work that we’re not paid for, and when we are paid, it isn’t enough to afford living in Berkeley and attending the UC. This occupation is meant to demonstrate to our employer and campus administrators that student workers want the flow of profit to reverse back from their pockets to our paychecks.”
Because students are capped at 19.5 hours – a lucrative prohibition on the part of UC President Janet Napolitano and university administrators to deter providing students healthcare, sick days, overtime, and other benefits, which UC employees that work over 20 hours receive – student workers often work anywhere from 15 to 40 hours a week. Already stacked with issues of housing, food, and healthcare insecurity, the need to work so many hours due to low-wages cuts deep into the academic and personal lives of student workers, and this is worsened when our wages are stolen and paychecks are delayed.
While the university offers work-study which allows students the opportunity to payback tuition and loans through working, across campus, and particularly for student workers in the dining halls, wages are too low to afford the cost of attendance, forcing us to work exorbitant amounts of hours on top of numerous responsibilities.
For student workers employed by CalDining, wage theft can occur through the withholding of a .25 cent semesterly wage increase. Each semester worked by a student in the dining halls is supposed to amount to an increase of .25 cents to their paycheck; however, its common practice for management to withhold an increase for months, semesters, and even years, resulting in stolen wages from student workers across the dining commons.
At Foothill Dining Commons, which serves the second largest amount of students, yet is the second smallest dining facility on campus with about 70 student workers -students estimate over $12,000 in wage theft over the last five years alone. This is a very conservative estimate that does not even include the wages stolen from nearly every student in the form of a withheld, or at best, perpetually late, $0.25 semesterly raise. The $12,000 figure is based solely on the failure of management to adequately compensate student leads, a position created for student workers to act as an extension of management without the pay of doing management’s work. Being a student lead, which involves essentially running the floor of the dining hall during one’s shift, is a significant amount of work on top of being a food service worker, and this is evidenced by the fact that the position has its own job classification, and a promised raise of $2.00/hr. Yet, the handful of students who have been selected to work as student leads at Foothill have often done so for years without any change in pay.
In the fall of 2015, despite tremendous barriers by management, student leads at Foothill began compiling records of their stolen wages, with the results revealing anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars in stolen wages from the handful of student leads involved. When the workers presented those numbers to the payroll office in the Residential and Student Service Programs building (RSSP) and requested backpay, students were ignored and dismissed. After persistent follow-up over the course of the semester, students were told that payroll had switched over to a new system in the fall of 2014 so the farthest backpay they could expect to get would be to that date, despite the fact that many of them had been working as student leads for two, three, or even four times that long. It ultimately took twelve months, from September of 2015 to October of 2016, for RSSP to push through the paperwork of the student leads to return some backpay. Although the student leads from Foothill succeeded in regaining a small portion of their stolen wages, thousands of dollars remain unpaid, and that $12,000 figure continues to climb each day.
“We know the university has tremendous amounts of money – the comfortable six-figure salaries of our employers and the millions the university spends on stadiums and buildings that are only accessible to a few prove it. We’re not asking the university to neglect other responsibilities; we’re demanding that CalDining and the university prioritize students over profit.”