Since late December 2021, student workers at the Botanical Garden of UC Riverside have been organizing in order to secure a $2 per hour wage increase as part of their living wage proposal. The Associated Students of UCR were made aware of the Living Wage Campaign at the Botanical Gardens and have expressed their “unwavering support for student-workers at both the Botanical Gardens and to the entire campus.” ASUCR voted unanimously in support of Botanical Garden workers.
On April 22, Botanical Garden workers met with UCR Human Resources, consisting of CNAS and the garden administration. The Director of Labor Relations for UCR and other HR higher ups were in attendance. The meeting commenced with the reading of a letter authored by a student worker regarding their financial need. Student workers presented information that laid out the basis for their fight for a living wage. They reiterated their labor rights and intent to start a union if a living wage was not instituted. Student workers also presented research that indicates a $2 per hour wage increase would cost between $12,000 to $20,000 per year to cover the increased labor cost of all eight student workers.
According to ASUCR, the $2 wage increase would only cost between $9,216 to $18,432 a year for all eight students, a tiny fraction of the Botanical Garden’s yearly budget funded in large part by the university. This is excluding the over $3 million endowment the Botanical Gardens has.
As student workers stated, UCR is an institution that is recognized for its contributions to the social mobility of its students. Contrary to its acclaim, student workers have expressed that UCR seems insensitive to its community’s financial dilemmas by arguing that it is not paying its student population that is predominantly working and middle class a living wage to lift various financial burdens and help financially insecure students continue their education at UCR. In response, HR representative Karen Logue stated, “You aren’t going to like this but student-workers aren’t supposed to make a living wage. You are supposed to make enough to buy food and pay for some rent, but the role of student workers is to gain experience.”
Although the university intended for students to take these jobs for experience, the current pay is not adequate to cover basic living expenses. Student workers rely on these jobs to afford both academic and living necessities. The meeting ended with the student workers reiterating a deadline of April 29 at 3 p.m. for HR to approach negotiations with a sincere resolve to reach a collective bargaining agreement for a living wage. This includes sending properly authorized representatives to bargaining sessions and meetings at reasonable times and places and as frequently as may be necessary to avoid major delays — good faith bargaining. The UCR administration has already delayed meeting with student workers for several months.
During the meeting, UCR administrators made comments that concerned student workers. One such comment was, “I hope the union dues don’t cost more than what you negotiate in a contract.” The student workers suspect that administration attempted to dissuade students from unionizing by delegitimizing the effectiveness of a union in securing living wages.
Nationwide, union workers are paid more than non-union workers and are able to secure better healthcare benefits. When negotiating a union contract, employees would have more flexibility in scheduling and other working conditions. The improvements in pay and benefits that come with union membership can offset the dues members pay. Without a written legally binding contract, any improvements made by management can be taken away.
Botanical Garden workers’ petition has garnered over 235 signatures in under two weeks. They are currently in conversation with other student groups and basic needs organizations in order to create a common coalition to build mutual support.