I went to a protest today. I've been to protests before. I protested the Gulf War for instance. I camped out all night, painted a sheet to say "No War" and chanted. Actually, I did that a couple of times.
This time the protest was against the place I work for put on by my union.
I heard about unions when I was very young. My mom was a big supporter of unions. I remember watching Norma Rae with my mom when I was just barely old enough to sort of understand what it was about. My mom looked a little like Sally Field.
I never worked anywhere that had a union before now. I used to joke that my co-workers at Java City or Peet's Coffee should get together and form a union. See if we could stop having to come in at 5:30 in the morning or get vacation time or more free coffee.
When I started working at UCSF I found that money came out of every paycheck, whether I liked it or not, to pay for union dues. I liked the idea of being part of a union, it made me think of Norma Rae, but I didn't really care for the money coming out of my paycheck.
Then last year I started getting emails from the union. They said UCSF was offering us a 2.8% pay increase as opposed to the 12% or so we were asking. Even if we got that 12% we still wouldn't be making the same wage as people in the private sector doing our same job.
I went to a protest then. I marched with other administrative staff, chanting various rhyming sentences, waving a sign. I wore a black band around my arm for the rest of the day. I felt like I was part of something, no matter how small, part of my own destiny, part of my own paycheck.
Ultimately we got a better raise than what was originally offered though not as much as we were asking for, or as much as newspaper carriers in Oakland got at roughly the same time that year. But hell, all we do is deal with patients at a hospital, they're delivering the news.
So now this year I find it happening again. The emails have begun to arrive saying UCSF is offering us a 1% raise. My co-worker John Paul pointed out that rents in SF under rent control go up 2.8% (more or less) every year. So this company I work for isn't even trying to keep our heads above water. Yesterday I got an email saying that top administrators at UCSF were likely to get a 25% raise this year. I screamed and told my co-worker Teresa that we were going to go to the protest rally today.
John Paul, Teresa, and I went to the rally. We held up signs. We did a little skit. We chanted for the news camera that was there. We walked in a circle in front of the cafeteria where the regents of UC were supposedly eating lunch. Some people wore fake long noses in protest of the lies we're supposedly being told by UC.
It was fun, actually. And I felt like I was doing something. If nothing else, I was shouting. I was saying that we deserve better. I was speaking up for myself. Sometimes I forget how good that feels. Sometimes it's easy to let my voice go unused.