UW custodians lead the fight

By Steve Leigh

SEATTLE--Hundreds of workers and students confronted the University of Washington (UW) Board of Regents May 28 over the administration's plan to impose budget cuts.

The proposed budget would void a pay raise scheduled for July 1 for thousands of employees, lay off several 100 workers, force custodians to work different shifts, shut down writing centers, close branch libraries and cut hours in the main libraries while stopping subscriptions to 2,000 journals, raise undergraduate resident tuition by 14 percent for the next two years, increase class sizes and cut enrollment and cut half the funding of the nationally renowned Women's Center.

The UW administration is proposing to do all this while leaving its $1.7 billion endowment virtually untouched and preserving the salaries of top administrators who make hundreds of thousands a year. The president alone makes nearly $1 million annually.

The day started with 150 custodians and supporters rallying and marching on management offices. Physical plant management is trying to force 85 custodians who work swing shift (late afternoon to night) to work days. This would totally disrupt their lives--destroying child care arrangements and second jobs. It also makes no sense to clean offices and labs when they are occupied during the day.

The custodians demanded to see Gene Woodard, director of custodial services. Police let in three custodians to present their demands. As they left, they chanted, " Gene Woodard has to go!" and "We'll be back!" Their union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, has been negotiating over this issue, but so far management hasn't given any ground.

The custodians marched back to the UW campus and rallied with other workers and students before marching into the Board of Regents' public hearing. This hearing was granted after much pressure and organizing from the Anti-Budget Cuts (ABC) coalition.

This hearing was almost unprecedented in UW history. Well over 200 people--mostly campus workers and students told the regents that they opposed the administration's proposed budget.

The most eloquent testimony came from the custodians. "If I have to work at 5:30 a.m., where am I supposed to leave my kids? Do you know of any child care at 5 in the morning? If I quit my job to care for my kids, I won't be able to get unemployment," said one custodian. "Gene Woodard has no idea about how to clean a building! We need more workers and less managers," said another worker.

Another very hot issue was the gutting of the Women's Center. Woman after woman testified how much the center had meant to their lives and how it made their education possible.

Toward the end of the hearing, members of the ABC coalition presented their alternative budget which calls for preventing the cuts by dipping into the UW endowment and capping high administrative salaries. Capping 150 administrators at $150,000 a year would save the UW enough to stop all the cuts on the libraries, keep the Women's Center open and keep the custodians on their current shifts.

The coalition also raised the issue of democracy at UW. Why did the administrators only consult other administrators and only a few faculty members? Why haven't students, faculty and staff had input on the budget?

The ABC coalition saw the public hearing itself as a victory. The administration has begun to modify its budget proposals under pressure. The coalition plans to keep up the fight by further rallies and confrontations of the regents. The final vote on the budget will be June 11.