Student workers at UC Riverside held a protest on Wednesday May 18 at the university’s Bell Tower in solidarity of student’s attempts to unionize. The protest was organized and supported by students from the UCR Botanical Gardens, R’Garden, 28ers organization, United Student Labor Action Coalition and the Graduate Student Union to name a few.
Student workers at UCR have been attempting to unionize and secure a raise to make a livable wage but have been unsuccessful in coming to any agreements with administration. In a recent meeting between the Botanical Garden workers and UCR’s Human Resources department, the student workers were told that they should not be able to make a livable wage. Other organizations like the R’Garden were present to support their fellow student workers while also advocating for more funding towards the R’Garden. The campus is currently refusing to pay their student workers a livable wage while not giving adequate funding to resources that help combat food insecurity.
During the protest about 30 students gathered at the Bell Tower holding signs with the phrases, “student workers deserve dignity” and “back R’workers.” The back and forth chant, “when I say union, you say power” could also be heard being repeated over the megaphone by UCR graduate student Christian Valdez.
Valdez currently aids the R’Garden and has been at the forefront of advocating for more funding. “Both the Botanical Garden workers and the R’Garden workers have been communicating with the school but they have ignored our emails,” stated Valdez.
Last year Valdez and other members of the R’Garden met with UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox and Vice Chancellor Brian L. Haynes to discuss implementing a $10 student referendum. This referendum would assist the R’Garden in hiring more student workers and expanding so that more food can be produced and redistributed to the campus community. They were told that no new referendums would be considered yet an athletics referendum was then allowed to be presented and voted on by the student body. Valdez and the other students feel they were lied to and have been unsuccessful in communicating with administration further.
After organizing near the Bell Tower, the protesters then paraded around the HUB continuing their chants while urging other students to join and support them. The protest reorganized in front of Hinderaker Hall where more students spoke about how this lack of support and funding from the school is affecting them.
Graduate student Hannah O’Brien spoke about her experience with trying to form the Graduate Student Union and being food insecure. “Unions save lives. I know several people who have gone hungry. Students deserve to eat, live and thrive. The R’Pantry, R’Garden, livable wages and unions are critical,” she stated.
The protest then moved inside Hinderaker Hall with students marching up to the office of Chancellor Wilcox. The protesters were told that neither Wilcox nor Haynes were present on campus. Instead Gerry Bomotti, the Vice Chancellor of Planning, Budget and Administration, came out of his office to speak to the crowd.
Halfway through the conversation with Bomotti, pizza was brought up by the protest organizers and passed around to the participants. The pizza was provided with no cost to attendees to reinforce their message that students should be able to access food if they are in need of assistance.
Bomotti was responsive to the protesters and listened to several of them speak on why they felt the need to organize. Valdez asked why the R’Garden has not been provided with more funding so that it can expand and hire staff. It currently has one staff member and eight acres of land that can be used for produce. Those who currently work there are mainly volunteers. The R’Garden hopes to increase the garden to having 10 acres of arable land.
It was also mentioned that UCR benefits greatly from the Botanical Gardens and R’Garden through the recognition they receive. The university has been recognized for these programs through awards for sustainability, social mobility and others yet both programs are currently underfunded. Bomotti agreed to continue this conversation and that he would look through the budget to see what additional funding could be allocated to the R’Garden.
The protesters then marched out of Hinderaker Hall and considered the protest successful although Wilcox and Haynes were not present to hear their concerns. The R’Garden and Botanical Garden workers hope to continue this conversation with administration and no longer be ignored. Those wanting to support the Botanical Garden student workers can do so by signing their petition at change.org.