Occidental College student workers vote to join SEIU Local 721

Rising Occidental Student Employees protest on the campus in Los Angeles

OCCIDENTAL College student workers have voted to join the SEIU union Local 721, allowing over 1,000 undergraduate workers – baristas, tutors, translators, lifeguards, and researchers to collectively bargain with the private liberal arts college in northeast Los Angeles for the first time.

SEIU announced the results of the April election on Monday, revealing that 85 per cent of voters chose the union.

The election created two new bargaining units, and will make nearly half of the student body into union workers once a contract is signed.

Casey Scott, a student who also works on campus, said a better wage would help him cover food and rent.

He added that it will make the college ‘more democratic for student workers who are integral to how campus works,’ and help students who depend on their wages for survival.

Students launched the effort last autumn under the name Rising Occidental Student Employees (ROSE).

They sought an end to the college’s earnings cap for student workers, as well as higher wages and job security.

Campus wages are tied to Los Angeles’ minimum wage of $16.78, and set at a maximum of 10 hours a week.

Students said it was too little to cover the costs of their rent, food, travel, and gas and electricity in an expensive place like Los Angeles – let alone make a dent in tuition or room and board, which run to $85,000 a year before financial aid. Occidental has indicated it will respect the election results.

ROSE plans to set contract negotiations.

The new union comes amid high support for unions among younger Americans, and increasing unionisation among undergraduate students.

Nearly 90 per cent of Americans under 30 years old now view labour unions favourably, a new high, according to a poll released last year by the AFL-CIO union federation.

Since 2021, at least 31 campuses have added undergraduate student worker unions, according to a 2023 report by the City College of New York.

In February, over 20,000 undergraduate student workers across the California State University system voted to join the California State University Employees Union more than doubling its size.

‘Organising among higher education students at all levels has increased rapidly since the 2020 pandemic,’ said William A. Herbert, the executive director of the National Centre for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College.

He added: ‘The wave of undergraduate student employee unionisation has followed similar unionisation waves among part-time workers and graduate assistants over the past decade.’

Even with financial aid, Sunari Weaver-Anderson depended on her campus jobs to cover living expenses, including transportation and food.

She said: ‘I was on full scholarship until my senior year, at which point my income and savings needed to stretch to tuition, room and board.

At one on-campus job, she worked more than 10 hours a week but was paid for only 10 because of the cap.

To make ends meet, she started an additional job, as an on-campus barista.

She added: ‘I needed these jobs to survive.’

Because she just graduated, Weaver-Anderson said the vote was bittersweet.

She continued: ‘I won’t benefit from the union but I was inspired by the process and glad I could help create something that will last beyond my time there.’

Meanwhile, thousands of additional Nevada state employees have filed for an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union election with the Nevada Employee Management Relations Board .

Unit C employees include Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) services technicians, family support specialists at the Department of Welfare and Support Services (DWSS), engineering techs at the Department of Transportation (DOT), and library technicians at all Nevada System of Higher Education institutions.

Jackie Bertot, a DMV services tech and an AFSCME member said: ‘An election is the quickest way to certify our bargaining unit.

‘We’ve gone four years without a union contract, and it’s time we take our seat at the table with our fellow state employees.’

AFSCME Local 4041 is the largest union for Nevada state employees, representing thousands of state workers across all agencies.

Many state employees in the technical unit provide direct services to Nevadans throughout the state at DMV branches, state welfare offices and college and university libraries.

Bertot added: ‘Workers in this unit are spread across Nevada but being AFSCME gives us unity because we all face similar issues at work regarding safety and resources.

‘Together, we can better advocate for ourselves and for the services we provide.’

Once the Employee Management Board sets an election date, ballots will be mailed to state employees in Unit C.

Nevada state employees have been organising as Local 4041 for decades. In 2019, Local 4041 members won the right for 20,000 state employees to bargain collectively over wages, working conditions and resources to improve state services.

Elsewhere, The main Muslim civil rights group in the United States has called on the international community and the American people to take action after a new report revealed that up to 21,000 children are missing in the chaos of the war in Gaza.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in a statement on Monday called on the world community and the American people to act on a report by Save the Children organisation on the number of children buried, trapped, detained, or lost amid the Gaza war, and end US-backed mass slaughter of Palestinian children.

In a recent report, Save the Children disclosed a distressing finding that approximately 21,000 children are believed to be missing in Gaza.

Thousands are presumed dead still beneath the rubble, while others have been harmed by explosives, buried in unmarked or mass graves, or have been detained or abducted.

The CAIR statement said: ‘This genocide must end, and the Palestinian people must be treated as human beings, not animals to be slaughtered at will by a genocidal regime with the support of the Biden administration.’

CAIR further noted that those responsible must be held accountable by institutions upholding international law and justice.

At least 10,000 individuals are reported missing under the rubble, and children account for 43 per cent of total casualties in the ongoing conflict, the report said.

This means an estimated 5,160 children are dead under the rubble.

Moreover, Save the Children said the bodies of children have been among those recently found in mass graves, with many showing signs of torture.

This comes as the United Nations has also raised the alarm about the mass detention of possibly thousands of people, including children, reporting cases of ill-treatment in detention by Israeli forces.

CAIR further pointed to the findings of a recent investigation by the Associated Press, which revealed that the far-right Israeli administration’s attacks on Gaza have wiped out ‘entire Palestinian families’, saying it once again proves Israel’s genocidal intent.

It also called on the Joe Biden administration to stop enabling and backing the starvation of children in Gaza by the Israeli regime.

The civil rights group also condemned the apparent systematic destruction of housing, health facilities and water wells in Gaza by Israeli forces as the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) says less than one-third of health facilities are operational.

Israel’s savagery is having a catastrophic impact on the Gaza children, causing mental harm to them.

Many are losing their lives due to the regime’s imposed starvation on the besieged Palestinian territory.

Over 495,000 Palestinians in Gaza are facing severe food shortages, with 50,000 children requiring immediate medical treatment for acute malnutrition, according to UN and other humanitarian organisations reports.

Israel’s genocidal war has claimed the lives of nearly 37, 626 Palestinians, including more than 14,000 children, since 7th October last year.