The price of protest

Crime must be way down in Yolo County, judging by how much time prosecutors there have to focus on a group of nonviolent protesters who sat down in a Davis intersection this spring.

The Yolo DA has still not dropped charges against the 24 people arrested May 1 on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly in Davis. They were protesting in support of 500-plus contracted-out Sodexho food-service workers at UC Davis who want to become university employees, in order to earn higher wages and better medical benefits.

During the protest, several individuals blocked an intersection and were ordered by police to disperse before being arrested.

The defendants all entered pleas of not guilty. Another pre-trial conference is scheduled for October 18, with the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office representing most defendants.

“This is getting to be a bigger and bigger case due to the DA wanting to prosecute the defendants,” said attorney Francisco Ugarte, who is representing Jane McDonald, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the union of 20,000 UC employees, including food-service workers who work at campuses other than UC Davis.

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, who supports the Sodexho workers, was quoted in the Woodland Daily Democrat as saying “It’s very unusual for these types of cases to be pursued as criminal cases.”

The Yolo County DA also told the Woodland paper that the county hadn’t prosecuted a civil-disobedience case in 11 years. “We’re going to continue to fight the charges,” said Katie Davalos, a student supporter who was also arrested that day. “The DA is trying to set a precedent versus the protesters, to make it harder for future protests.”

Also on August 29, UC Davis and Sodexho—which bills itself as the “leading food and facilities management services company in North America"—inked a new agreement under which non-student workers will earn higher wages. Sodexho also consented to pay more for its employees’ health-care benefits, and give student workers more aid for books and tuition. The changes will cost UC Davis an additional $2 million a year, to be paid by higher prices for student residential housing and Student Union food services. AFSCME representatives and Sodexho workers, however, did not take part in negotiating these new terms.