UW janitors march on Regents

June 16, 2009

SEATTLE--Some 200 custodians and supporters protested the University of Washington (UW) Board of Regents June 11 in a march and rally organized by the Anti-Budget Cuts Coalition (ABC) and their union, the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), to call for an end to attacks on janitorial workers.

Management is demanding that many of the custodians move from the evening shift to the day shift, which would disrupt the lives of dozens of people--interrupting day care, family responsibilities and second jobs. Working the day shift would also mean speed-ups, in order to get the work done before lab and office workers arrive.

Management also plans to lay off custodians and shift them to new assignments. As a result of the last rally on May 28, the shift change was set back from June 1 to July 1. Recently, management agreed that fewer custodians would have to shift--so while issues remain, workers' organizing has already yielded some results.

This attack on the custodians is part of a larger attack on workers and students at UW, as a result of state budget cuts. The UW administration is trying to raise tuition, cut classes and enrollments, lay off workers and shorten library hours.

UW could save jobs at the bottom if it capped administrative salaries at the top--one of the ABC Coalition's demands. Setting a cap of $150,000 alone would save $3.6 million, enough to keep the libraries open and the janitors on their current shifts. UW also has several administrative funds it could tap.

After rallying on campus, the march went to the UW Tower where the Board of Regents was meeting to approve the budget. Rallying outside the Tower, chants rang out: "They say cut back, we say fight back!" "They say, no way--We say, sí se puede," "The workers united will never be defeated," and "Cut from the top, not from the workers!"

UW police barred the way to the elevators to the Regents' meeting, but a few ABC supporters were able to get to the meeting and let the Regents know what the angry crowd below thought. The rest stayed in the lobby and chanted for well over an hour. The spirit and determination were infectious as passersby joined in the rally and protesters explained the issues to new people. Passing drivers honked in support.

At one point, Charles Kennedy, assistant vice president of facilities services, came down from the Regents' meeting to address the crowd. Kennedy's arguments didn't satisfy custodian and WFSE Vice President Salvador Castillo. "Its like a slap in the face," he said. "We're fighting for our rights. This could destroy a lot of families."

Toward the end of the Regents' meeting, when it became clear that no one else would be let in, the rally moved outside. People from various groups spoke, encouraging people to continue the struggle. Marchers returned, chanting, to the main UW campus.

The ABC Coalition will continue meeting over the summer and will help the custodians and other workers and students resist the continuing cuts.

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