Union workers and allies hold up posters and pose for a portrait beside the Cesar Chavez Student Center at SF State on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (David Jones / Golden Gate Xpress) (David Jones)
Union workers and allies hold up posters and pose for a portrait beside the Cesar Chavez Student Center at SF State on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (David Jones / Golden Gate Xpress)

David Jones

Student workers form union; petition for better equity

Thousands of CSU student assistants signed union cards to join the movement for a fair contract.

April 25, 2023

Over 4,000 union cards have been submitted by CSU student assistants in an effort to form a union. 

This is the largest non-academic student unionizing effort in U.S. history, according to the President of the California State University Employees Union, Catherine Hutchinson. Around 10,000 students will be covered from all 23 campuses. On April 18, student assistants launched a “Let Us Vote” action on CSU campuses across the state by passing out stickers, flyers and taking action online. 

Signs attached to a table blow in the wind beside the Cesar Chavez Student Center at SF State on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (David Jones / Golden Gate Xpress) (David Jones)

“It’s for a good cause. It’s to support student workers so that we get these benefits knowing that it takes up so much of our time. Right on top of our studies, we are getting paid, but there’s an exemption of benefits,” said Pilar Moreno, an American Indian Studies work-study student. “I may not see the effects of it, but student workers down the road will. The reason I signed was to be in solidarity with other student workers to build that unity. We are all in it together whether some students know the benefits of having benefits.” 

Most student assistants make minimum wage, have no sick time or health insurance and have hours limited to 20 per week.

“We’re here in San Francisco, and it’s not cheap,” Moreno said. “Having free parking would be great. Having access to the parking structure and not having to pay. A lot of students, like myself, spend a whole check just to pay for parking. Living in the city, I’ve kind of surrendered to that but being a student here doing lower-income work while studying, especially as a graduate student I have a heavy load.” 

This is Moreno’s second job, alongside working as a counselor at night outside of SF State. 

“I’m a student worker with a family. I would even think that for the undergraduates here just leaving home max you’re going to make 2,000 a semester,” Moreno said. “Young people, even myself, how do you manage that when there’s not much income? If their essentials are only being met by a student’s working income, that’s not enough because you can’t work in the summer.”

The union will fight for fair pay, paid sick time, staff parking and more hours. 

“I think that part of your tuition here is access to the Student Health Center so that is covered. I think the university must assume we are covered,” Moreno said.

Last year, San Diego State University faced controversy over student workers’ health benefits. 

“Particularly in a situation for students who were TAs, their health benefits actually got cut. There were student protests for it, and as far as I know, I don’t recall the university having much of a response to that,” said Elisa Mendez-Pintado, a graduate student in school psychology at San Diego State University. “The students who are begging for proper health insurance yet students like me are still on our parents’ health insurance. Not all students have the ability to be on their parent’s health insurance like that so that’s what we are asking for, proper and adequate health care.” 

A big priority for the developing union is student health care plans.

Devon Crooks, a student worker, takes a photo of a student holding up a sign outside of the Cesar Chavez Student Center at SF State on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (David Jones / Golden Gate Xpress) (David Jones)

“Our starting point is that we think that the student health services plan they have is not really a health plan,” said Jim Philliou, executive director at CSUEU. “We don’t think that it qualifies as a health plan under the American Affordable Care Act. We think it’s inadequate. It’s a student health services plan. The whole benefit of the Affordable Care Act was it defined a health care plan, and it defined what we call the skinny plans that don’t cover much as not health care plans.” 

The union plans to research the coverage they receive with the student assistants and work with them to develop their bargaining proposal. The union is in partnership with UAW, the Union of Academic Student Workers, which represents academic student workers. 

“Student assistants and staff employees know the University is trying to keep wages low for everyone by having students do CSUEU members’ work. The jig is up,” Hutchinson said. “By forming their union students are demanding what all workers need, fair wages, good benefits, and a voice in their workplace. Keep in mind their employer is a public university charged with opening doors for Californians of limited means through education.” 

Students are joining the union to empower themselves against an institution that takes advantage of them, according to Cameron Macedonio, a student assistant at CSU Fullerton.

“We took student jobs to support our educational goals, but it feels like our own university is working against us. Imagine paying $340 a semester for parking so you can make minimum wage,” Macedonio said. “There’s only one thing to do when the power of a massive employer is stacked against you. Join with your co-workers to create your power through a union.” 

On April 4, student assistants gathered at Sacramento Public Employment Relations Board to file their union election representing the signatures of students from all 23 campuses. The next step is for PERB to schedule a vote for all student assistants eligible to join the union. If a majority vote favors the student workers will bargain with CSU for a fair contract.

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Adriana Hernandez, Editor-In-Chief
Adriana Hernandez (she/her) is the Editor-In-Chief for Golden Gate Xpress. She is majoring in journalism and minoring in media literacy. Adriana has a passion for storytelling, culture, art, and design. She previously wrote for The Skyline View, the student newspaper of Skyline College. In her downtime, she enjoys reading and watching films. For any inquiries, you can contact me at [email protected].  
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David Jones, Staff Photographer
David Jones (he/they) is a photographer for Golden Gate Xpress. He is majoring in photojournalism and minoring in sociology. He was born in Oakland, California and raised in Hayward, California. His passions are concerts/editorial photography, poetry and searching for new ways of creative expression. During his free time, he enjoys reading, writing poetry, self-reflection and listening to music.

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