Student organization advocates for health care worker contracts

USC Young Democratic Socialists of America stands with the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation at Tommy Trojan in late October with signs advocating for workers’ rights. (Photo courtesy of USC Young Democratic Socialists of America)

The USC chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America partnered with the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation and the National Union of Healthcare Workers to deliver a letter to USC Interim President Wanda Austin on Oct. 25. Since the delivery, a tentative three-year contract has been negotiated between the workers and the administration.

Meg Aldrich, the director of media relations at Keck Hospital of USC, said the contract will be voted on by NUHW members later this week.

The contract will apply to the 1,100 workers at Keck. Union worker Matt Artz said the average raise over three years will be of 14.5 percent.

With the settlement, contract workers previously employed under Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company,  will now be under USC’s management. Workers will receive employer-paid health insurance, a retirement plan with a 5 percent employer contribution and significant raises. Workers’ wages can rise more than 50 percent for the lowest paid Sodexo workers, according to Artz.

“We demonstrated to the employer that the community, including the students at the university and YDSA, were united in support of the Sodexo workers,” said NUHW President Sal Rossell. “We had to work so hard and threaten the strike to accomplish just bringing these workers up to comparable wages and benefits to everyone else that works for the University.”

Moving forward, the University hopes to continue to amend relations between its employees and the administration, said Rodney Hanners, chief operating officer for Keck Medicine of USC.

“I can’t say enough about our team at Keck that worked tirelessly at the bargaining table alongside NUHW’s team to meet the needs of our workforce. We want to ensure our employees know how much we value their contributions to the success of Keck Medicine of USC,” Hanners said.  “To that end, I think our employees will be very pleased with the focus of our contract. We look forward to announcing those details in the very near future.”

USC union workers and organizers got together prior to the delivery of the letter to discuss workers’ struggles and how to address the issues affecting 76 cooks, nutrition assistants and food service workers who prepare all the food for the USC Keck Hospital’s patients, physicians, staff and visitors.

The letter describes the workers’ grievances and lists the demands that the NUHW wants for its workers, which include in-sourcing jobs to provide a higher living wage and added health care benefits, according to Michael Hsu, a steering committee member of YDSA and SCALE.

“In return for our work, however, many of us earn poverty wages — just pennies above the minimum wage,” the letter read. “Eighty-one percent of us earn less than $15 per hour. We have no affordable health insurance. Many of our families go without health care, which costs as much as $460 a month in premiums. Our wages are so low that many of us qualify for public assistance programs like Food Stamps, Medi-Cal and public housing.”

Hsu, a sophomore majoring in non-government organizations and social change, said members of both student organizations went to Bovard Auditorium to deliver the letter to Austin. Once the students reached Bovard, they were surrounded by DPS officers and were not let into the building, he said.

USC Chief of Staff Dennis Cornell came out to speak to the organizations about how the administration is seeking to improve negotiations.

EDITORS NOTE: USG beat writer Reese Armstrong, pictured in the photo, is a member of YDSA.