More than 30 supporters and students gathered in front of Tommy Trojan, where from labor union UNITE HERE Local 11 representative Hannah Petersen announced they would march to President Carol Folt’s office to demand a meeting to talk about workers’ rights.
Students sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “De Colores” as they waited in the hallway of Bovard Auditorium for this additional conference with Folt as part of a demonstration held in support of USC workers by UNITE HERE Local 11 following a meeting between USC workers and Folt Tuesday.
Nina Rosser, a graduate student studying law, said the workers had four demands from the University, which included increasing wages so they would not have to take on additional jobs to make ends meet, guaranteeing a 40-hour work week; maintaining current health care benefits; and establishing a pension program for workers who have been with USC at least 30 years.
The organizers shared with demonstrators stories of workers they had talked to, many of whom had two to three jobs to support their families and did not have time to wait a month for the administrators to listen to their demands.
When the demonstrators reached Folt’s office at Bovard, they were stopped by the security guard on duty, and additional officers from the Department of Public Safety were called for backup. Only two representatives were allowed to go up to meet Chief of Staff Rene Pak, as Folt was out of town.
While SCALE representatives Rosser and Ada Marys Lorenzana went up for a two-minute meeting with Pak, the rest of the supporters sang songs outside Bovard so administrators could hear their voices.
“It sent a message for sure,” said Lorenzana, a junior majoring in political science. “It was just two of us in there — we could hear everyone outside and [people in the building] could as well. So it’s nice to know that it’s not just two people showing up.”
Once the meeting with Pak ended, the demonstrators marched to Von KleinSmid Center to discuss the protest and make future plans to set up a meeting with Folt.
“I think it’s easy for students to think that the struggles, of workers are somehow separate from their own struggles and that’s simply not the case,” Lorenzana said. “We all have to be responsible and willing to show up for one another.”
Ryan Boyd, an assistant professor in the Writing Department, was the only faculty member present at the demonstration. Boyd said it was necessary for students to know how to get involved in democracy and labor issues they have a stake in.
“I think that’s really wonderful to know that students are engaged and activated and interested in things that affect the University and the whole community because the workers who are negotiating for a living wage are people without whom the University would not function,” Boyd said.
Undergraduate Student Government Sen. Christopher McMorran, who attended the demonstration, said he had been involved with workers’ rights and helped pass a resolution last semester to make sure they were treated with respect during contract negotiations.
“My big thing is making sure that when USG passes a resolution, we don’t just stop there — we follow up and actually act on it, so this is a big part of that,” McMorran said. “We can’t just write on a piece of paper that we’re supporting workers — we need to actually physically support them.”
McMorran said it was encouraging to see how many students showed up to support the workers and how going forward it would be important to respect both the workers and the University during negotiations.
“I think that Dr. Folt has been incredibly responsive about a lot of other areas of policy that USC has been concerned about,” McMorran said. “There’s been a noticeable silence on this issue, so we’d like to just get some follow-up on that, even if it’s just a meeting … letting us know what’s going on.”
Lorenzana said she did not believe of the negotiations had led to concrete results. She added that even with student support on the issue, they had been unable to schedule an additional appointment with Folt.
“There [have] been four negotiations with the University and they have yet to respond to any of the demands I mentioned,” Lorenzana said. “It’s kind of just a lot of back and forth … they just simply have ignored those demands. Right now, we can’t even get a meeting with President Folt. We have to fight to get two minutes of the time of the Chief of Staff.”
In a statement to the Daily Trojan, USC wrote that it is currently working with UNITE HERE Local 11 to achieve a fair agreement with workers.
“We believe the University offers competitive compensation and exemplary benefits that make it a place people want to work,” the statement read. “We look forward to continued discussions with the union’s bargaining team and working together toward a new contract.”
Demonstrators said they would keep protesting until they got a chance to meet Folt for a conference about worker demands.
“We’re just going to keep showing up until they hear us, and they have a duty to hear us,” Lorenzana said. “Like I said, we are students here. We pay to keep this University running and they have a duty to us and they have a duty to the workers.”