Student assistants at California State University campuses across California starting voting Thursday on whether they should have union representation.
If a majority of the 20,000 student workers vote to form a union, it would create the largest undergraduate worker student union in U.S. history, according to the organizing union, CSUEU SEIU Local 2579.
The union already represents other university staffers such as custodians and livestock technicians.
Emilio Carrasco, a student assistant at Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education, told GV Wire he’s voting yes because he wants better pay and benefits.
Carrasco, a liberal studies major who plans to earn his teaching credential, said Thursday that some student assistants have to work a second job just to have enough money for school and to live on. The minimum wage pay and 20-hour workweek for student assistants limits how much they can earn, he said.
Students who have to work more hours have less time to spend on their schoolwork and are more stressed mentally, said Carrasco, who attended College of the Sequoias in Visalia before enrolling last fall at Fresno State.
“I think the higher pay is the main thing, and that could help a lot of people,” he said.
In addition, student assistants now aren’t eligible for benefits such as sick pay and health insurance, Carrasco said.
He acknowledged that he could earn more money working somewhere else. But student assistant jobs are designed to accommodate student class schedules, Carrasco said, and since he doesn’t have a car he’s somewhat limited to working on campus.
This week’s one-day strike by the California Faculty Association was a real-world example to student assistants of what union representation can achieve, he said.
The CFA had sought a 12% pay increase but agreed to a 5% pay increase retroactive to last year and another 5% pay increase as of July.
“I really do feel like it just shows that a large amount of people who feel that they are not getting what they deserve, when they form a unit and they’re all fighting for the same thing, it does show the people in power will listen when they have to,” he said.
The voting period on union representation question will continue through mid-February, and the results will known by the end of the month, Carrasco said.
The CSU system has taken no position on the union organizing effort.
“The CSU acknowledges workers’ rights to organize, including student assistants, and is committed to following the state’s collective bargaining laws and regulations governing union representation,” Amy Bentley-Smith, director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, said in a prepared statement. “The California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is managing the election to unionize student assistants, and in the event student assistants vote to unionize, we look forward to engaging with them as we do with all of our other union partners.”