Keisha had not been working long in the Nutrition department at UCLA’s Santa Monica Hospital when one of her coworkers was fired. He was a great worker and she didn’t

understand why management had fired him. Her Organizer held a union meeting, and then scheduled a Labor Management meeting where everyone in the department agreed to speak out against the unjust termination and speak out about issues happening within the department. Each of the workers had their talking points, knew what they were going to bring to the table, and were ready to go. Keisha felt empowered and motivated to speak out–something she didn’t always feel. The day of the meeting, as all the workers sat across from management and it came time to speak up, the air was suddenly sucked out of the room. No one said a word. Keisha felt mad. “I just couldn’t believe it. How could we go from empowered to cowards in just a few minutes? This was our time.” That anger pushed Keisha, although nervous, to speak up. Slowly, her courage inspired everyone else to also speak out, and management heard workers’ concerns that day.

A few days later, I saw the fruit of our labor. Changes began to happen, and that’s when I realized, okay, maybe there is something to this union stuff. That’s when I began to get more involved, to learn more, to equip myself with our contract. Knowledge is power.” Since 2009, Keisha has been an active union leader at Santa Monica Hospital and credits her union for empowering her to speak out when she sees an injustice–not only at work, but outside as well. She says, “Before, I would see someone and I would just be like ‘damn that’s wrong’ and kept it moving. But since I’ve been involved with 3299, I can honestly say that I feel more empowered to speak up for others. I feel brave.”

And, I want others to feel brave too. That’s why I always tell new folks coming in: Yes, it’s awesome working for UC, but everything that made this a great job–it’s because we’ve had to fight for it. It’s not because UC is nice.

Our union has pushed UC to do right by us. When I first began at UCLA I was a Food Service worker being paid $9 an hour, but I was cooking. We hit the picket line every single contract fight, and now, I’m making more than $23 an hour and I have the job title of Cook. New workers coming in make $10 more than I did when I started, and that’s because of us, not because UC said ‘let’s do it’. You get paid more because of me, us, because of 3299. We need to keep it pushing. We need to keep fighting together. It’s how we improve things, and I feel like our union is just getting better and better. Where we were in 2012 compared to now, it’s a world of a difference. AFSCME 3299 is on the right track.”

Keisha Collins is a UCLA Santa Monica Cook. She is a single mother to a beautiful daughter and currently serves as a MAT Leader for the Nutrition Department.