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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Thursday, July 30, 2020

UCSD Lays Off Housing & Dining Workers- Temporarily?

by Amie Campos, PhD Candidate, History 

Simeon Man, Associate Professor, History 

Rihan Yeh, Associate Professor, Anthropology 


On the morning of June 15th, approximately 200 Housing, Dining, and Hospitality workers at UC San Diego were given notices of “temporary layoffs.” Those who were at work that day were instructed by management to meet at a cafeteria, with a promise of free lunch. Citing a 90% drop in students on campus, management told the majority-Spanish-speaking workforce - via a management-appointed translator - that they would be laid off for the rest of the summer. They were handed some information, including a sheet on how to apply for unemployment, and dismissed with written assurances that they would be returned to their jobs in early September. Lunch, unsurprisingly, was never served.

This move came just two weeks after Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s to the university community denouncing the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — a message that included a promise of “doing what can be done within our institution to make sure everyone feels that they belong and that they matter.” This juxtaposition reveals the unwillingness of the university to put its money where its mouth is. It has chosen a path that leaves 200 workers and their families, from low-income communities of color disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, without income for at least 2 months.

In a public statement regarding this mass firing, the university characterized the layoffs as inevitable. We should not be misled into accepting this austerity narrative. AFSCME, the union representing the majority of the affected workers, released its research findings based on publicly-available UC financial statements on May 18th. This report showed that the UC system can leverage its vast resources and stellar credit standing to lead California’s economic recovery by maintaining employment for its 227,000 workers rather than pursuing cuts. UCOP has not refuted AFSCME’s claims about usable reserves. Further undermining the austerity narrative,

the university advertised temporary positions in dining services following the layoffs. At the May 20 Regents meeting on “Projected COVID-19 Impact on 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 Revenue,” UC’s Chief Financial Officer Paul Jenny also presented a variety of options for weathering the COVID-19 financial storm, including dipping into the endowment’s unrestricted funds and applying for low-interest federal loans through the CARES Act at different campuses.

Without evidence that the University will face financial hardship if it does not enact layoffs, UCSD affiliates should not accept the administration’s chosen course. Dining service workers have an average annual salary of $41,000 -- well below San Diego County’s Area Median Income (AMI). While significant for workers, a two-month layoff has a negligible effect on UCSD’s overall budget. Chancellor Khosla, whose gross salary in 2018 was $477,384, has taken just a 10% pay cut, and the University continues to employ over 600 people whose regular payexceeds $200,000.

UCSD’s treatment of its workers also exposes the dangerous assumptions and inequities embedded in its much-publicized “Return to Learn” program. The majority of laid-off workers have been working on campus on rotating shifts throughout the pandemic, serving students who could not leave and staff who could not work from home. Yet since the university began its ambitious pilot plan in May to test all students on campus prior to the official start of “Return to Learn” in the fall quarter, UCSD has not offered its workers ample opportunities for free testing, nor has it provided them with adequate PPE or regular COVID-related training. Many workers have had to take precautionary measures themselves, in the absence of clear protocols or guidelines from supervisors, and have for months been worried about being exposed to the virus on campus and bringing it home to their families. The university’s demonstrated disregard for the health and well-being of its essential workers underscores the view that they are disposable and not part of the “campus community” deemed worthy of protection. This casts further doubt that the university will ensure the safety of other campus workers including students, and faculty as the “Return to Learn” program ramps up.

The effects of these decisions will reinforce existing racial and gender inequalities at UCSD and fly in the face of ongoing organizing by students, faculty, and staff, who demand that administrators address the institution’s own anti-Black, anti-Latinx, and anti-Indigenous realities. A 15-page list of demands issued by the Black Student Union (BSU) on June 22nd, which objects to these layoffs and calls for the defunding of the campus police, is one important example. Another is an op-ed published on July 4th by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS Local 94) titled “We Will Not ‘Return to Earn.’”

We reject the University’s plan to wait until early September to return laid-off workers to campus when they will have to scramble to meet the needs of arriving students. We view the plan as part of a flimsy and unethical strategy of UCSD administration hedging its bets to collect housing deposits from students who are promised a safe campus opening in the fall despite rapidly rising infection rates, while keeping labor costs down and reneging on its rehiring promise in the event that “Return to Learn” is unfeasible.

UCSD must reverse these layoffs, especially given Covid-19's trajectory and disproportionate impact on communities of color in San Diego. The close to 200 Housing and Dining workers and their families are invaluable members of the campus community and should be treated as such. UCSD is a major employer in the San Diego region that holds the livelihoods of many people in its hands. As a research institution, medical center, and major hospital, UCSD depends on labor provided by communities in San Diego, including low-income communities that have served as sites of clinical training, research, and experimentation for UCSD researchers. Reinstating these workers will be a small step in repairing the extractive relationships on which UCSD’s reputation as one of the nation’s top research institutions depend.

How you can support HDH workers: We call on the university to reverse the layoffs. In the meantime, donations can be made to UCSD Mutual Aid’s gofundme page in order to support workers facing financial difficulties. Chancellor Khosla’s office can be reached at 858-534-3135.

A Spanish language version of this piece is here

UCSD North Campus: Photo Credit  Erik Jepsen, Triton May 16, 2019

 

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