CSUEU SLO Vice President Erin Foote led protesters around Cal Poly's campus on May 1, 2023, to achieve salary reform. Credit: Owen Lavine | Mustang News

Agricultural communication senior and student organizer for the California State University Employee’s Union (CSUEU) Jared Mandrell started working for Cal Poly Public Safety in September 2021. Mandrell said he enjoys his job and every day presents him with unique challenges. 

Six months ago, Mandrell was approached by CSUEU organizers who presented the idea of unionizing his workplace. Mandrell said his knowledge of unions was “very minimal” at the time. 

“I knew the premise of negotiation and making sure there are fair and equitable conditions, but I struggled to wrap my head around what you would want as a student,” Mandrell said. “What could a union really do for student workers?”

As he learned more about what the union could offer him personally and what the CSUEU currently offers unionized employees, Mandrell became more interested. He said that, currently, student employees don’t have paid time off, paid sick days or reduced parking passes, whereas full-time employees and employees unionized with CSUEU do. Becoming a full-time employee was not an option for Mandrell despite his tenure, as the CSU mandates that student employees only work 20-hour max weeks. 

Mandrell is among the more than 10,000 non-academic student employees across the CSU system who currently do not have union representation.

However, on May 1, student organizers across the CSU system announced they have begun petitioning to unionize with the CSUEU system. In order to get a union election, 30% of workers would have to sign a petition to hold the election.

Mandrell said his conversations with coworkers and other student employees about the union have been positive. 

“Most people are excited at the idea of being able to receive those benefits and being able to be a part of that negotiation, being able to have a seat at the table,” Mandrell said. “These talks [about workplace policies] are so high level, that students are almost never involved in them.”

Emily Hake, a full-time CSUEU union organizer and former CSU student employee, is traveling across the state supporting student employees in their organizing efforts since last year. Hake said that in her experience helping students organize across the CSU, many of them have reiterated the issues and needs that Mandrell described. 

Hake also said she has only had positive reactions from students about the union. 

“I can’t even think of one time that I have talked to a student assistant and they’re like ‘yeah, no, leave me alone I’m not interested in this,’” Hake said.

Hake expects well above 30% of student employees to sign their petition cards based on her conversations. 

CSUEU President Catherine Hutchinson says she has been surprised by the level of initiative that student organizers have taken in connecting across campuses and driving the organizing effort. 

“The students that were interested in becoming a part of a union started coming up with ideas on their own on how they could start connecting with their fellow student assistant workers,” Hutchinson added. 

Hake, Mandrell and Hutchinson all said they are excited about the next steps and to finally see their work come together 

“I am a former student assistant, so I understand exactly what they are wanting and needing,” Hutchinson said. “So for me, it just touches my heart that… the students are finally able to come together and say ‘this isn’t right we deserve to be treated better.’”