Dining Hall Workers Protest for a Living Wage

Prospective students and parents visiting this Cal Day had the opportunity to see some of the activism that has characterized UC Berkeley’s atmosphere for decades. This past Saturday, students from the Undergraduate Workers Union blocked off Sather Gate to protest the university’s treatment of dining hall workers. Several protesters even climbed the lofty heights of the gate, unfurling a sign that read “Living Wages Now,” while bemused visitors watched and asked the students standing behind club tables what was happening. This is an important question that should be answered, and one that all students, regardless of whether or not they are employed by the university, should be invested in— why has the university’s treatment of student workers led them to protest, and what conditions are they protesting specifically?

Photographer: Molly Kearnan Caliber Staff

Photographer: Molly Kearnan Caliber Staff

The Undergraduate Student Workers Union held a panel with Cal Dining in early March at which they demanded a living wage, safer working conditions, and better training processes for new workers. It seems shocking that the university would mistreat the students responsible for keeping other students well-fed and functioning, but even more shocking are the conditions reported by student workers. The Daily Californian interviewed dining hall staff members at Foothill Dining Commons, who claimed that there are problems with ants and rats that have not been properly dealt with. Furthermore, the workers claim that older members of the staff have been progressively forced out of the dining halls and replaced with more student workers. The new students are inadequately trained, and given disproportionate amounts of responsibility as the older workers leave.

Because their concerns have not been met, the Cal Dining workers decided to protest on Cal Day to make their struggles more visible to the UC Berkeley community. On a day of celebration and school spirit, one might find it jarring to see students marching with signs while chanting, “You cannot fire us all” and, “Our labor, our hands, our terms!” Perhaps it is a testament to our university’s lack of care for its employees that student workers felt forced to disrupt a day of excitement for prospective students. Cal Day is often the first time new students begin to form impressions of Berkeley, and a day on which prospective students start to solidify a sense of what it would be like to call Berkeley home for the next four years. The version of Berkeley prospective students saw on Saturday was an institution at which students have to fight for basic living wages and an affordable education, and it is sobering to think of the ways in which the protest affected both the parents and potential incoming students’ views of Berkeley.

The university’s response to the protests of the Cal Dining workers has been less than ideal. Over the last several weeks, student workers have been shutting down dining halls at different times of the day in an effort to force Cal Dining to raise the workers’ wages, reform training processes, and improve break policies. Most recently, the protesters closed down Crossroads Dining Hall at about 2 p.m. on Cal Day. Cal Dining responded by closing down Late Night in retaliation, which the protesters have interpreted as an attempt to starve workers of wages to prevent the daytime strikes from continuing. As many as twenty student workers have even alleged that they have had their employment statuses placed on hold because of their union activities. The Undergraduate Student Union has been working to fundraise for these suspended employees in an effort to help them pay rent and buy meals. Cal Dining has even gone as far as to ban protesting student workers from entering certain dining halls, where they usually eat most of their meals. Cal Dining is not only starving the protesting students of wages, but quite literally starving them of food. Our university’s philosophy of “students first and foremost” seems quite blatantly and disgustingly at odds with their efforts to keep students from earning the wages that make their educations at UC Berkeley affordable.

This is an ongoing problem— dining halls continue to be shut down by students during the day and by Cal Dining at night. We can support our fellow classmates who work for Cal Dining by encouraging their protest activities and helping the Undergraduate Workers Union compensate suspended workers by donating to their youcaring funding page. Additionally, students can email dining@berkeley.edu to express their discontent with the treatment of student workers, or alternatively call the director of Cal Dining, Shawn Lapean, at 510-642-6384.  



Image: The Undergraduate Student Workers Union page on Facebook

Tinney, Kate. "Undergraduate Workers Union Holds a Panel after Demands Not Met." The Daily Californian. N.p., 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.


CampusOlivia Lewke