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We have our campus service workers to thank for the attractive and academically-conducive environment at UCSD. Thanks to their hard work, we can focus on our intellectual pursuits without being bothered by debris, disease, pests, or any of the inconveniences or safety hazards posed by everyday occurrences like broken locks and lights, faulty fire alarms, and wobbly ramps and stairs.  But the health and safety of the workers themselves -- and the well-being of their families -- is being gravely compromised by the hurtful, degrading, and physically deleterious conditions and demands imposed by manager Elizabeth Cardenas.  Help us replace Cardenas, and bring back the workers she has unjustly fired!

Letter to
Chancellor, University of California at San Diego Dr. Pradeep K. Khosla
Assistant Vice Chancellor of HDH Mark Cunningham
Chief of Staff, HDH Jana Severson
and 3 others
Associate Director, HDH Margaret Nagase
Director, Employee Relations, Work/Life Jennie Leibman
Employee Relations Specialist Christopher DeSaulniers
Halt the abuse of campus service workers!

Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla
University of California at San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093

cc: Mark Cunningham, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Housing, Dining and Hospitality
Jana Severson, Chief of Staff, HDH
Margaret Nagase, Associate Director, HDH
Jennie Leibman, Director, Employee Relations, Work/Life
Christopher DeSaulniers, Employee Relations Specialist

Dear Chancellor Khosla,

As a graduate student at UC San Diego, I greatly appreciate the fact that our university environment is consistently clean, safe, and beautiful. We have our campus workers to thank for this attractive and academically-conducive environment: Thanks to their hard work, we can focus on our intellectual pursuits without being bothered by debris, disease, pests, or any of the inconveniences or safety hazards posed by everyday occurrences like broken locks and lights, faulty fire alarms, and wobbly ramps and stairs. We owe these workers a huge debt of gratitude … which is why I was appalled to learn of the abusive and illegal treatment to which some of them have recently been subjected.

Manager Elizabeth Cardenas has a long history of mistreatment of UCSD workers. She has forced workers to perform tasks which their doctors have ordered them (in writing) not to perform. When workers have presented doctors’ notes regarding restrictions on particular activities (lifting heavy objects, etc.), Cardenas has told them that if they can’t perform these activities they will be fired. She has pressured workers – including two pregnant women – into performing unreasonably strenuous and dangerous tasks; as a result, numerous workers have been injured on the job.

Cardenas has denied bathroom breaks to workers, even threatening workers with dismissal if they use the restroom. One worker, upon being questioned as to why she was going to the bathroom, replied that she was taking medication to stabilize her blood pressure, and the medicine caused her to go more frequently. Cardenas responded by asking whether it was really necessary for the worker to take this medicine! This incident exemplifies the type of degrading treatment to which Cardenas has been routinely subjecting the workers. On some sites (Mesa Housing, for instance), bathrooms can only be accessed with a key. Cardenas has denied keys to workers; as a result, workers can only use a bathroom if and when she unlocks it for them.

Cardenas has unjustly fired three workers. These workers are now left with no unemployment benefits and no health insurance. One worker has a heart problem necessitating expensive medical procedures. Cardenas has unjustly fired this worker, and, as a result, he no longer has health insurance and is unable to afford the medical procedures he desperately needs.

Cardenas has also intimidated workers in order to prevent them from speaking about their working conditions, and has retaliated against workers who have spoken out. One worker was placed on investigatory leave for speaking publicly about campus service workers’ experiences. In addition, managers have attempted to intimidate students who sought to support the workers. In one instance, police were summoned simply because students were passing out flyers. The police officers stated that the students were committing no crime, and that passing out flyers on campus was a perfectly permissible activity. Nevertheless, students felt intimidated that the police had been called.

Workers met with you on September 18, 2012 and delivered a file containing dozens of incident reports involving abuses by Cardenas. To date, no action has been taken to remedy the hostile, humiliating and dangerous situation in which the workers find themselves with Cardenas. She has continued her abusive practices, and has threatened and taunted the workers who dared to speak with you.

Dr. Khosla, I am writing to you to express my support for the workers’ demands: (1) that Cardenas be replaced immediately, and (2) that the three workers who were unjustly fired be reinstated.

Instead of fostering a climate of fairness, cooperation and professionalism, Elizabeth Cardenas has created a psychologically degrading and physically unsafe environment for our hard-working service employees. Her actions violate the UCSD Principles of Community, and threaten to disrupt the healthy campus environment upon which we all depend. Campus workers ensure the smooth functioning of university life; mistreatment of these workers is detrimental to every aspect of the University’s mission.

Malathi Michelle Iyengar
Department of Ethnic Studies

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