For over 20 years, housekeeper Rosa Hernandez has made sure students live in clean and safe environments at the UC San Diego residence halls. She makes dorms feel like home. Still, the University of California (UC) does not pay her a livable wage. Rosa, a decades-long unionist, knows the power of the union difference, which is why she and her 30,000 co-workers are demanding a mid-contract raise from UC: a $25/hr minimum wage and a 5% increase for anyone already earning the 25.

We talked to Rosa about the socio-economic challenges that patient care and service workers at UC face and their need for wage increases. 

This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

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AFSCME 3299: How are workers employed by UC faring economically?

ROSA HERNANDEZ: Since the pandemic, our economy has been horrible due to high inflation. The price of everything has skyrocketed and salaries are stagnant. Our salaries are not enough to survive, to make do on—not if you live alone or if you have a partner who brings in a second salary. The price of everything has gone up too much: rent, water, power, gas. Our salary is not in line with the market. Everything is really too expensive. In my family this is happening. In my household, at the start of the pandemic, my son lost his job. Our family had to make do with one less salary. And landlords do not care. They raise rents. Water bills go up. The power bill goes up. If salaries do not increase, everything else is impacted as well. There are many colleagues in my department who work 2 jobs. It is incredible. We can’t live like this. We do not get to spend time at home or with our families. Inflation has affected all workers, not just those who are unionized. It is essential that salaries increase.

3299: What is a typical work day for you?

ROSA: Housekeeping is really hard work. We have to clean bathrooms. We have to clean kitchens. We have to vacuum the floors. We have to clean the showers. We have to replace the toilet paper rolls. Everything is dirty, really dirty. It is arduous and badly paid work. There is so much work to do on Mondays after no cleaning has been done during the weekends. Then, the employer still has the nerve to assign extra tasks and gets mad when they have to pay overtime. Being short-staffed and underpaid is the worst in the summer. UC used to rely on outsourcing during the summer months, and now they pile on more work on us. The University refuses to hire more people since they have to pay casual staff fair wages and provide them with benefits. When we won an end to outsourcing, it wasn’t so that we would experience more hardship. We won so that all workers had benefits and rights. UC took it badly and is now taking it out on us.

3299: How would you describe union power to your siblings? 

ROSA: The university doesn’t give you your salary. Those of us who are out there at union-led actions and events are the ones who give you your salary. New and senior staff will all benefit from a $25/5% increase. If the University already overworks us, imagine what our work situation would be like without a union. I prefer to have a union job. I have worked in hotels without a union, and they were abusive employers. The union protects us.

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

ROSA: UC must put themselves in our shoes. UC’s pockets are so full that not even a penny will fit in them anymore. In contrast, many pennies fit in our pockets. Our pockets are empty while the University continues to increase management and executive salaries. The University of California must take into account that a worker is valuable. We are not cheap hands. We are valuable. Without us, they would not have a salary. I want UC to treat us with dignity. I want UC to respect us with a fair and livable salary. We want and deserve a livable wage.