Cal State student workers begin vote to unionize

By Aaron Coloma and Alexa Nolasco, Feb. 20, 2024

Student assistants across all 23 California State University campuses began a vote to form a union with the CSU Employees Union Jan. 25, which will continue through Feb. 22.

Through unionizing, CSU student assistants are looking to improve their wages, remove the limit on the number of hours they are allowed to work, acquire health care benefits, paid time off and reduce parking costs for student assistants.

Student workers employed at CSUs from May 2023 to October 2023 are eligible to vote. This historic vote is set to be the biggest student worker union vote ever in the United States, with about 20,000 California students eligible to take part.

“Student assistants and staff are coming together to reform a broken system and fight for the equity that CSU stands for,” said CSU Employees Union President Catherine Hutchinson in a press release Jan. 24. “When student assistants win their election and form their union with CSUEU, we will work together to empower and invest in workers across the entirety of the CSU.”

Student workers are hoping to gain benefits, such as the ability to collectively bargain for workplace changes, including the wages and benefits they’re looking for and representation, which ensures workers have a say in decisions affecting them.

The CSUEU reports most student workers at CSUs make $16, the state minimum wage, and have their work hours capped at 20 hours per week.

Kaitlin Gomez, a kinesiology student and student worker, explained how difficult working for minimum wage was due to the lack of hours she is permitted to work.

“It’s not a livable wage,” said Gomez. “And the 20 hour per week cap limits a lot of students from working enough to pay for themselves. A lot of students have to get second jobs.”
Gomez also expressed how difficult it was for herself and other student workers to work around the price of the parking permit.

CSUEU Students Advocating for the Student Union. | Alexander Novoa

“I’ve essentially had to pay to come to work because of the parking pass,” said Gomez. “Over summer breaks is when I feel the weight of that. I’ve kind of gotten around it by taking the bus, but that extends my commute by two hours each day, and I live on the other side of the city. For other coworkers and other people that live in other cities, it’s just not really feasible for them.”

The decision to vote came just two days after the California Faculty Association reached a tentative agreement with the CSU system to end what would have been a week-long strike across all CSU campuses.

Tori Umeda, an ethnic and women’s studies student and student worker, spoke about how important it was to come together after such a large-scale event.

“Knowing how this election is coinciding with the CFA strike and how that ended, I think it’s definitely more important now to come together,” said Umeda.

Umeda also spoke about the support student workers have received from the CFA.

“The CFA supports us, and we support them,” said Umeda. “We’re all in the same fight together. It’s been nothing but a lot of support and camaraderie, which is nice.”

The movement to unionize began in April 2023, when student assistants filed petitions to form a union. Students then received the right to hold a union election after submitting more than 8,500 union cards to the Public Employee Relations Board in November 2023.

Graduate student Carlos Callejo, Bronco Young Democratic Socialists of America co-founder and Students for Quality Education intern, is part of this effort in creating a union for student workers. As the voting process unfolds, student workers, like Callejo, are committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue and securing recognition from the CSU system.

“The goal is to have those conversations, get enough yes votes, and be recognized by the CSU,” said Callejo.

For updates on the student workers’ vote to unionize, students can visit the CSUEU website and its social media accounts.

Feature image courtesy of Alexander Novoa 

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