Victoria Mejicanos | The Poly Post

CSU student employees launch ‘historic’ union campaign

By Victoria Mejicanos, April 25, 2023

Student assistants from all 23 California State University campuses filed with the California Public Employment Relations Board April 17, submitting more than 4,000 union cards, showing interest in holding a union election.  

Once given the proper number of student assistants employed by the CSU, and negotiations about what employees would be represented by the union, an election date can be chosen and depending on the number of votes, a union can be formed. 

According to the CSU Employees Union, this is the largest nonacademic student unionizing effort in the history of the United States.

According to Cal Matters, the issue has been a subject of disagreement as early as 2021. The CSU Employees Union previously filed petitions for student assistants to be included in their bargaining efforts but were denied because the CSU believed students did not have the same responsibilities as a regular staff member.

In an email to the administrative judge handling the case, Timothy Yeung, a lawyer employed by the CSU wrote, “While there are some Student Assistants who perform jobs similar to those in CSUEU represented bargaining units, the Student Assistants’ primary role is that of a student and not a traditional employee.”

If successful in their efforts, more than 10,000 student assistants will be represented by the CSU Employees Union, allowing them to bargain for issues such as higher pay, paid sick time, more hours and staff parking permits. 

Currently, students who work on campus pay $231 in parking for the entire semester. Staff parking permits can either be $71.60 or $67.50 depending on which bargaining unit they are a part of, less than half the price of a student pass. 

CPP students could be found tabling in front of the library during U-Hour April 20, with faculty involved in the California Faculty Association showing their support. 

Electrical engineering student Benjamin Villa explained he signed his union card because he saw there were other student employees with benefits he wasn’t provided. He also shared it as a way to express himself. 

 “Students don’t really have a voice on campus to make a change, so when they came it sounded like this huge organization that might help us make that change,” Villa said. 

An issue the union is hoping to bargain for is staff parking permits and Villa explained this was important to him and a contributing factor in signing a union card.

“Everyone who works here needs to buy a parking pass, so essentially, they’re paying to work here, and I don’t think that’s fair at all,” Villa said. “All my coworkers can’t even afford parking passes.” 

In a press conference April 17, representatives from both the CSU Employees Union and the CFA expressed their support for student’s efforts, as well as its disappointment in the CSU delaying a union election. 

Catherine Hutchinson, president of the CSU Employees Union, shared student interest began as early as last May when CSUEU was contract bargaining. Students were learning what it meant to have a union and creating their own networks across the state. 

Hutchinson stated since CSU employees work closely with students, they understand their concerns. 

“We’re supporting students coming together to form their union because it’s the right thing to do,” Hutchinson said. “If they’re doing union work, they should have a union.” 

She also criticized the CSU stating they “exploit this labor pool because they can.”

Jim Philliou, the executive director of the CSUEU said although filing for a union election is a major step in the right direction, the union’s biggest opposition is the CSU. He explained under California law, employers are not allowed to dissuade their workers from participating in a union. 

“Their only ability to stall this effort or weaken this effort is to create illogical delays that will then frustrate some of the student assistants,” Philliou said. 

He stated that although the student workers want a quick and fair process, they expect delays and will be ready to address them. 

“We’re going to expose them in front of the legislature, in front of the media, in front of the governor’s office and in front of the campus if they do that,” Philliou stated. “There’s no question that these student assistants are employees under California state law, and there’s no question they have the right to form a union and they have sufficient support to trigger an election. So we’re going to stick to our push.”

At the same press conference, students from a variety of CSU campuses expressed their grievances. 

Since filing with PERB, campuses across the state have been full of students campaigning, using the slogan “Let Us Vote.” The CSU has 20 days from the filing date to provide an accurate number of employees. 

Carlos Callejo, a history graduate student, shared his support of the union comes from experience with “union busting companies” like Starbucks and Amazon. He Said the working conditions of students aren’t too dissimilar. 

In his undergrad he worked as an intern for the CFA, where he learned how to form and run a union. 

“CFA cares for their workers and they’ve been supportive of us every step of the way,” Callejo said. 

He shared with campus unity, he believes students could begin a movement toward change.  

“I believe that if all the clubs, all the groups could come together as a coalition and fight for workers’ rights, I think we could do that,” Callejo said.  

Feature image by Victoria Mejicanos

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