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California State University student workers file for union

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Posted at 5:59 PM, Apr 18, 2023

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Student-workers across California State University campuses filed Monday with the state to form a union, saying it would help them advocate for better pay and working conditions.

“With a union, we’ll be able to hold the university accountable for how it treats students,” said Grayce Honsa, a student and resident adviser at San Diego State University.

The students looking to unionize serve as residential advisers, run mentorship programs, manage student radio stations and perform other jobs across the system’s 23 campuses. Many students are paid the minimum wage of $15.50 an hour, and in some cases, they are paid less depending on their level of experience, said Mike Roth, a spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union California.

The organizers say they are behind the largest student worker unionization effort in the country. A vote has not yet been scheduled. If it is successful, the union would need to be recognized by the California Public Employment Relations Board.

It follows a successful effort by unionized graduate student workers to reach a deal with the University of California system.

In December, UC graduate students ended a 40-day strike after reaching a bargaining agreement with the university system to raise wages for workers who were paid as little as $24,000 a year.

Charles Toombs, president of the California Faculty Association, which is backing the California State University students’ unionization efforts, said it is unacceptable that some student workers struggle to make ends meet.

“Their working conditions are impediments to their success,” he said.

The university system serves more than 477,000 students across the state.

Amy Bentley-Smith, a spokesperson for the California State University chancellor’s office, said in an email the system “is not involved” in the organizing effort but “acknowledges all worker's rights to organize.”

“In the event student employees are formally recognized by the California Public Employment Relations Board, we look forward to engaging with them as we do with all of our other union partners,” she wrote.

Assemblymember Liz Ortega, a Democrat representing Alameda County, expressed her support for the student’s efforts to unionize.

“In a nation of vast wealth where too many workers are denied the respect and pay they deserve, there’s only one path to changing the balance of power,” she said. “And that is uniting with your colleagues and joining a union.”

___ Sophie Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.