Note: This article was published in May of 2007 in The California Aggie during the protest at UC Davis in 2007 regarding the university’s food service workers. Check out my related feature article too.
Twenty-four people, including 12 UC Davis students, five alumni and one lecturer, were arrested in Tuesday’s demonstration as they protested the out-souring of food-service workers and janitorial staff on the UC Davis campus.
Many UC Davis food-service workers have demanded UC Davis employ them directly since February. The workers are currently employed by Sodexho, the university’s food-service provider. The university has denied their requests, saying it is in the school’s best interests to remain in its sub-contract arrangement with Sodexho.
“One of their biggest concerns is health care,” said Lisa Lapin, assistant vice chancellor of university communications. “Health care is also a big issue for the campus. We want all employees at UC Davis to be treated fairly and equitably. We’re talking now with Sodexho to see what can be done to correct disparities between health care costs between Sodexho employees and university employees.”
Lapin said Sodexho has also agreed to abide by some low-wage standards for employees as well as give them access to the grievance process.
“We’ve had a contract with Sodexho for over 30 years, 35 years sine 1971. In that time it has been a beneficial partnership for the campus and the students,” she said. “If Sodexho employees were to become university employees, it would cost an additional (at minimum) $3 million more a year to operate the food services. These costs would then get passed on to the students. Students in the residence halls could be paying more than $600 more per year for the food services if that were to happen.”
At a Monday press conference, Fred Block, a sociology professor, and Martha West, a law professor, released a letter endorsed by 60 members of the UC Davis faculty supporting the food-service workers and Tuesday’s rally. Block said the money shouldn’t be an issue.
“We shouldn’t do it because it’ll be more expensive or less expensive. We should do this because it is the right thing to do,” Block said. “UC Davis’ administration is badly out of touch with faculty opinion on this matter. It’s time for UCD to follow its Principles of Community. The Administration should have responded already and done the right thing.”
Yahya Rouhani, a senior international relations major, said he feels Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef needs to step up and take responsibility for his campus.
”I don’t know why Vanderhoef has delayed on this action. He keeps saying his hands are tied. With the purpose of saving his job, Vanderhoef is willing to ignore the concerns of the students,” Rouhani said. “This is to show that we will put them to the test and they need to be responsible for the rights of the workers and the students at UCD.”
After marching to the intersection at Russell Boulevard and Anderson Road, Davis Police Department officers redirected traffic, forcing a Unitrans bus to stop for about 15 minutes.
Henry Lee, a sophomore managerial economics major at UC Davis, said he felt inconvenienced by the protest.
“I didn’t know this was going to be happening at this time. I feel that it’s inconsiderate of them,” he said. “They have the right to peacefully protest but not when it infringes on people’s rights to get to class on time.”
Several faculty members were at the protest to support the workers and students. Marc Blanchard, a comparative literature professor at UC Davis, said he feels it is the time for action.
“I’ve been here this whole time,” Blanchard said. “It’s high time they acted. This might be the beginning of something interesting.”
Also participating in the protest was medieval studies and University Writing Program lecturer Kevin Roddy, who was arrested by choice during the protest. Roddy said he first began working at UC Davis in 1967 and had not been arrested before Tuesday.
“I’m here to support the students and the workers of dining commons that are under Sodexho. They’re held under terrible conditions,” Roddy said. “I gave my 12:10 class the option of studying or coming along. I don’t usually cancel a class but I feel that this is important.
“Getting arrested is an important statement to make. Hopefully the chancellor will realize that students are unhappy with this policy,” he said.
A group of 24 protesters, with red tape on their left arms, sat in a circle in the middle of the intersection. The red tape marked those who planned to be arrested.
At 1:23 p.m., several DPD officers began to arrest the protesters. As the first arrest was made moments later with white plastic handcuffs, the crowd started chanting, “The whole world is watching!”
DPD spokesperson Lieutenant Colleen Turay explained the situation.
“It’s a planned civil disobedience act,” Turray said. “We’ve arrested about 20 people and put them in the sheriff’s department bus. They’re in violation of the 409 penal code, which states that they failed to disburse from an unlawful assembly and that if they did not leave they would be arrested.”
The 24 people arrested were taken to the city of Davis police station, where they were fingerprinted, photographed, issued a citation and then released. According to Turay, this means that they have an arrest record, and if proven guilty in court, will have a criminal record as well.
After the arrests, the crowd marched to Mrak Hall on campus. Griselda Castro, an assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, came out of the building and asked for representatives from the protest to hold a talk with available administrators.
Castro, along with Janet Gong, the interim vice chancellor for student affairs; Raheem Reem, the associative executive vice chancellor for campus community relations; Bob Loessberg-Zahl, the assistant executive vice chancellor and Mike Sheesley, the director of employee and labor relations, met with three student workers, Angeles Jimenez, Patricia Zermeno and Cecilia Sarmiento represented the workers, along with ASUCD Senator Andrew Peake and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lead organizer Max Alper.
“I wouldn’t have called it a negotiation,” said Peake after the meeting. “None of the people we met with had power over the issue. The subject of another meeting was put on the table, but there wasn’t any active action for it on the part of the administration. Janet Gong came out and promised to relay some of the concerns to the chancellor. She then answered some of the questions from the crowd.”
In terms of the demonstration, Peake said he feels satisfied.
“We’re pleased with the amount of students,” he said. I think there were about 450 at its peak. But the administration needs to know that these actions are not going to stop until a decision, the right decision, has been made.”