Sunday, September 11, 2011

University of California-Irvine lays off 1/3 of its janitors

       I'm going to try to keep this posting relatively brief.  Over the past few years, there has been a fairly significant labor struggle occurring at University of California-Irvine.  UCI is the last of the UC system to use outsourced labor.  At one point, both the landscape and the janitorial workers were outsourced, but after a long and fairly painful struggle on the part of an alliance of workers, AFSCME 3299, and the Worker-Student Alliance, the landscape workers were insourced as union employees.  The struggle then turned to insource the janitorial workers, a struggle that continues to this day.  A number of the significant actions of the budget cuts struggles at UCI focused on these struggles, and the political alliance at the heart of the insourcing campaign played a significant role in pushing those struggles forward.  However, the campaign has been blockaded by the administration through its use of dissemblance and deception, at times, claiming that the workers were in the process of being insourced, while continuing the policies of outsourcing labor, at times through the use of rumor and innuendo to break up political alliances in solidarity with the workers.  (In all fairness, the activist community has made significant contributions to these fractures on their own.)  Additionally, the university has threatened to use the largely Latino work force's legal status as a way of stopping the calls for insourcing, posing legal and INS sanctions as the consequence of making these demands.  (This calls for a longer conversation that I can't deal with at the moment.)

      I wanted to open with that context to establish that the university's actions around the janitorial workers can't be simply understood in some sort of reductivist economic context.  They are defined by the long struggle that started long before the existence of the current economic crisis.  Recently it looked like there may be the possibility of a breakthrough in these negotiations.  The university had sent a set of proposals to the union for insourcing the workers.  To be sure, the proposal was terrible, and was part of a long series of university proposals that were never followed through on, but it was the first time that a plan was actually put into writing.  Unfortunately, the university followed that proposal with a set of lay offs that went into effect last Tuesday, laying of 49 workers, about one third of the janitorial workforce.  Within this context, it's difficult to see this action as one in a long series of betrayals on the part of the university to its lowest paid workers.  If these lay-offs are allowed to stay in place, the already heavily burdened janitorial workforce will have to take on more work, creating health and safety concerns for both the workers and the entire university community.  Even before the lay-offs, labs and classrooms were cleaned infrequently, and the loss of more workers is bound to make the situation even worse.

     AFSCME has some good information on the health and safety issues that I can put up if folks are interested, but at a basic level, we should simply fight these lay offs out of a solidarity with our fellow workers, and as a fight against the racism of the university.  Please write Chancellor Michael Drake at or call his office at (949) 824-5111 to protest the recent lay-offs and to call for the insourcing of all UCI janitorial workers without preconditions.

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