As Senior Groundskeeper, Erasmo Garcia keeps the ocean-side campus of UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) looking beautiful. He has been, for 12 years, setting foot on UCSB well before the sun rises over the Santa Ynez Mountains and students begin their bicycle treks to their classes. For all that he contributes to UCSB, Erasmo, like many of his AFSCME 3299 siblings, works two jobs. He would rather spend the time he now dedicates to a second job with his family, but what the University of California (UC) pays him is no longer enough for working families to survive on. 

Erasmo is one of 30,000 AFSCME 3299 members, Patient Care and Service Workers employed by the UC system, who have launched a mid-contract fight for fair, livable wages. The demand is simple: a $25/hr minimum wage and a 5% wage increase for workers already at the proposed amount. An across-the-board wage increase would make a noticeable difference in the lives of the people who run UC—California’s third largest employer. 

We sat down with Erasmo to discuss the $25/5% campaign and what it means to him.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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AFSCME 3299: Why are you advocating for the $25/5% increase?

ERASMO GARCIA: The $25/5% campaign is important to me because we are facing the difficult task of paying for food, rent, bills, and gas with insufficient salaries. A salary increase is something that would help and benefit us because then maybe it would be possible to have more time to spend with our family. When one works two jobs, time is too short to spend with family because one is always working due to the high cost of living. Earning more would help us live a life with more dignity.

3299: Describe what a regular day is like for you at work. 

ERASMO: My work day begins at 5:00AM, and I am at my work area by 5:15AM. I begin with leaf blowing, cleaning the courtyards, the walkways, and streets. I do this until 7:45AM. I then take a small 15-minute break. It is from 5:15AM to 7:45AM that we do the hardest, most strenuous tasks. We are in a hurry during those first hours to complete all of the tasks that are considered noisy. And, let’s not forget that it’s super cold in the morning in Santa Barbara, especially with the campus’ location next to the beach. At 8:00AM, I collect the garbage from the trash cans in the courtyards. Then, we do day-specific work. For example, since it has been raining lately, there are a lot of weeds. We focus on that type of work, tasks that aren’t too noisy for the students. This is when we prune the hedges and trees, and we tend to the flower beds. If, for example, it is windy during the weekend or a branch falls at night, we have to clean after those incidents. Our job is to keep the gardens, patios, courtyards, grassy areas, walkways, and streets in a presentable and pretty state for students, faculty, and visitors. By 1:00PM, I finish my daily tasks and start putting away my tools. My work day ends at 1:30PM.

3299: What would you like your union siblings to know?

ERASMO: One of our biggest work benefits is the union. We must take advantage of and use the union to acquire what is ours. We have the tools to improve our jobs. Not all employers are unionized. For example, the workers at Cottage Hospital and Sansum Clinic, two of the other biggest employers in Santa Barbara, are not unionized. We must emphasize and tell our co-workers that we must take advantage of our union to achieve our demands. We must unite and make having a union count. 

3299: What is your message to the University of California?

ERASMO: Pay us a more decent salary—a salary that is more compatible with the high cost of living, especially here in Santa Barbara where everything is so expensive. We deserve a salary that will allow us to live in dignity, where at the very least we only need to work at the university and not work two jobs to live here. The way that we are living makes it seem like we are living to work for the university. We are working in order to be able to work there. We are not working to save money or to do other things because there is not enough money. A salary increase is very important in order for us to live a life with more dignity, a calmer life, one that is full of benefits and quality time with our families.