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Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

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CSU student assistants vote on whether to unionize

With unions receiving a mass wave of popularity over the last few years, especially from young adults, many consider it a big deal that the student assistants across the California State University campuses are the next group voting to unionize.

Working alongside the CSU Employees Union (CSUEU) and Service Employees International Union 2579 (SEIU) members, student assistants are fighting to take a stand against the exploitation they face.

“Currently, student assistants are often given the work of CSU staff without any increase in their compensation,” said Vanessa Navarro, an administrative support coordinator at Fresno State. “They are expected to do this work, no questions asked, and the reality of the situation is that these students don’t question it because they are afraid of losing their jobs.”

On Jan. 25, student assistants throughout the entire CSU system will have the opportunity to vote for fair wages, sick time off, staff parking and more hours.

Student Assistants Building Momentum in 2023-24

In Oct. 2023, CSUEU successfully secured the right to hold a ‘Union Yes’ election for student assistants, which was announced in an Instagram post following the news.

During the time between the announcement and the voting date, CSUEU has been campaigning towards student employees on multiple CSU campuses. They’ve established themselves as the go-to voice for students who feel underrepresented at on-campus jobs.

“Student assistants play critical roles in the daily operations of various areas on campus…” Navarro said. “It’s only fair that they are able to bring their voices to the table to advocate for fair working conditions for themselves.”

Currently, about 60% of student assistants on campus cannot afford their basic needs and 52% lose income due to sick days, resulting in financial instability for students who commonly rely on their part-time positions on campus as their only source of income.

In Sept. 2023, the CSU approved a systemwide tuition increase of 6% annually over the next five years. That’s 34% more that students will be paying for their classes, starting the 2024-25 school year — which caused uproar not only from students, but faculty and staff.

“I don’t think it’s worth it [to charge students more tuition]. I’m working two jobs and it’s hard for me to pay bills right now,” Leonardo Guzman, a junior at Fresno State, told The Collegian.

CSUEU has been fighting for this union since Feb. 2022, and students have been facing these problems for years even before that.

Students are capped at a maximum of 20 hours a week, and many jobs on campus — think retail — don’t offer guaranteed hours, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting that there will be a loss of 76,600 retail jobs in the next 8 years.

“The concerns I had back [when I worked] as a student assistant are the same that I recognize now as supervising staff: a competitive wage, getting enough hours, having sick time available, clear job duties that are within the S.A. classification and a clear path to retention and being re-hired,” said Jefferson Beavers, communication specialist in the English department.

This vote, heralded as the largest non-academic student worker union election to date, will mark a significant power shift in the current system by putting the power into the hands of thousands of student assistants.

“…unionizing would address allowing students to have a fair wage comparable to other employees not working for a CSU. Fast food employees make far more than most student assistants do,” Spencer Beairman, a Media, Communications and Journalism student, told The Collegian.

A majority of CSU student assistants work at the current California minimum wage, $15.50 an hour, and make about $8,000 a year — or $9,000 if they’re lucky enough to get extra hours — then $7,000 of that goes directly to the annual tuition.

In contrast, fast food employees in California are set to get a $5 raise in April which will bump their hourly pay from $15 to $20.

“This campaign is by and for students and I am so excited by the momentum I’m seeing on campus from my fellow student assistants who are tired of the status quo and ready to have our voices heard…,” said Emilio Carrasco, a third-year Liberal Studies major. “We’ve come together because with a united voice through a union, we know we can make a difference for ourselves and future generations of student workers.”

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