Seven in ten University of California administrative and clerical workers, the majority working full time, struggle to put food on the table every month. You read that right – workers at one of the top university systems in the world often have to decide between paying their rent and buying food. According to a study released Monday by researchers at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute of Occidental College (UEPI), more than two-thirds of UC workers are considered “food insecure” by federal standards.
Teamsters Local 2010’s President Catherine Cobb & Secretary-Treasurer Jason Rabinowitz opened the press event, clearly alarmed with the unsettling discoveries. Cobb spoke on behalf of anonymous workers, who were “brought to tears” when filling out the survey for the study. The stories had a common theme: having to compromise on basic necessities. A former UC graduate often skips meals, and relies on milk, butter, and mayonnaise to subsist. Another worker said she has to choose between having a healthy for herself or having enough food for her children and husband. These upsetting accounts of daily struggles facing countless UC workers were underscored by Teamsters members Joseph Meyer and Gloria Rios sharing their personal stories at the event. Rios, who has worked at UC Berkeley for 20 years, shared her painful reality of how skipping meals “used to help with rent, but it doesn’t anymore.”
UEPI’s lead researchers on the report Peter Dreier and Megan Bomba described food insecurity and shared their findings about UC workers. Dreier emphasized “this is not a problem that requires charity, food banks, or budgeting… but for UCs to pay a living wage.” Key findings from their report include:
- More than two-thirds (70 percent) of UC’s clerical, administrative, and support workers struggle to put adequate food on the table, which is considered food insecure according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture definition.
- One quarter (25 percent) of UC employees have “low food security” – defined as food insecurity without hunger or reduced food intake but with reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet.
- Another 45 percent of UC employees have “very low food security” – defined as food insecurity with hunger from skipping meals or reduced food intake due to a lack of resources.
- The findings stand in contrast to other populations. The level of food insecurity among these UC employees is one and a half times higher than the level of food insecurity among UC students, and is more than five times
Vice Mayor and Oakland City Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington also joined the conference to show support, flagging the issue as “very local and very important”. Rabinowitz closed the conference by thanking the courageous workers and calling for change in the UC system. “It’s “shame to the UCs and California that full time workers are working for the wealthy [in these conditions]. It’s a disgrace.”
During the release of the study, I also had the chance to talk to two UC Berkeley workers and Teamsters Local 2010 members, Alicia Flores and Joseph Meyer. Both Meyer and Flores discussed the compounding impact of wage stagnation plus increases in their contributions over the years. According to the Economic Policy Institute, over 93% of the workers aren’t paid a living wage. Teamsters Local 2010, representing 14,000 administrative and clerical employees across the UC system, have been in contract negotiations with the UC since the end of last April.
Both Meyer and the new report were also highlighted in the Los Angeles Times Monday: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-uc-worker-hunger-20161016-snap-story.html
Joseph Meyer, a 31-year-old administrative assistant at UC Berkeley, earns nearly $20 an hour but said he skips breakfast and sometimes additional meals to have enough money for his asthma medications. His $1,150 monthly rent eats up more than half of his $2,100 monthly take-home pay.
When the money is close to running out, he said, it becomes “Top Ramen week.”
To stay updated on the workers’ fight for living wages that allow them to live where they work AND put food on the table, be sure to follow Teamsters Local 2010 on Twitter and Facebook.
Click here to read the full report: Food Insecurity Among University of California Employees
Featured photo caption: (From left) Teamsters President Catherine Cobb and Secretary-Treausrurer Jason Rabinowitz & UEPI’s researchers Peter Dreier and Megan Bomba.