Custodians gather to protest for better wages

Photo by Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

Over 150 students, faculty members and custodial staff gathered at Tommy Trojan on Tuesday to advocate for USC custodians to receive higher wages and affordable health care from the University’s subcontractor Aramark.

Colored signs that said “Custodians deserve more than minimum wage,” “Aramark treat custodians as Trojan family” and “Trojan family ready 2 strike” were passed out around Hahn Plaza. Participants wore lanyards attached to badges that read “2018 Todo o nada ¡Ya Basta! #faircontractnow” on one side, and “Trojan family ready 2 strike 4 fair contract #custodiansaretrojans2” on the other.

“[Custodians] are people, they are raising families, they have children, many of them have lived in Los Angeles for generations, and so they deserve fair pay and health care because that’s what everybody deserves,” said Stephen Boardman, the communications coordinator for the west coast branch of Service Employees International Union. “Minimum wage is never sufficient; just think about living on minimum wage in Los Angeles. You’re talking about living on less than $14 [per] hour. It’s not something that allows you to actually live and care for a family.”

Led by a small group of workers playing snare drums, participants marched down Trousdale Parkway to USC Village and ended their march at the intersection of 32nd and Hoover Street.

“Some of the custodians are unsatisfied and do have trouble on paying for certain things,” said Veronica Perez, a custodian who said she has worked for Aramark for the past 10 years. “From my personal experience, it is troubling because the rent in Los Angeles is high at the moment, we all have different bills and other necessities that we have to pay for. With our current wages, it is something that we have trouble with on a daily basis.”

At the end of the rally, the intersection was blocked off by police. Participants sat on the ground in a huge circle as the custodians sang in Spanish. Different chants such as “Estamos en la lucha,” which translates to “We are in the fight,” and “What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!” were called out to capture the attention of passersby.

When the marchers headed back to USC Village, Stephanie Solis, a freshman majoring in sociology and a student organizer of the rally, gave a speech. She emphasized the importance of supporting all members of the USC community.

“Our fight doesn’t stop here,” Solis said. “USC has boasted about being a Trojan family, but I don’t see that Trojan Family happening here. We are neglecting this part of the community, and both students and administration need to unify together to demonstrate that we are supporting this part of our family.”

Tuesday’s march  was the follow-up to a rally on March 26, as well as a resolution proposed by the Undergraduate Student Government Senate on April 10 to improve the conditions of the USC custodians.

The resolution was unanimously approved by the senate at its meeting Tuesday, where some custodians were in attendance.

USG senators proposed reducing the out-of-pocket costs that custodians had to pay monthly for health care. They also proposed increased wages.

Some workers said they would have gone on strike had the resolution not passed.

“We have seen a strong response from students and faculty members,” said Cesar Quiles-Borrero, the lead organizer for SEIU United Service Workers West. “We encourage them to be a part of the struggle because at the end of the day, the campus should be a place for everyone to feel at home. It’s amazing to see the students getting involved and we are really thankful for their efforts.”

Boardman said SEIU has been working on negotiations with Aramark to settle a fair contract between the company and its USC workers to be finalized and signed on April 20.