National Beat Reporter
University of California service workers and patient care technical workers will be hitting the picket lines in early May following a breakdown in contract negotiations between AFSCME 3299 and the UC.
California Nurses Association, which represents 14,000 nurses at UC’s five major medical centers, and the University Professional and Technical Employees-CWA (UPTE-CWA) union will join AFSCME members in the strike. The UPTE-CWA represents about 15,000 healthcare, research, and technical workers.
In total, approximately 53,000 workers will strike at UC locations from May 7 to 9, according to the The Sacramento Bee.
AFSCME 3299, the UC’s largest employee union which represents more than 24,000 UC workers, initially voted to authorize a strike with 97 percent approval from its members after negotiations with the UC came to an impasse. The union and the UC could not reach agreements on matters concerning wages, retirement, healthcare, and job security.
“We’ve been bargaining with the university for over a year and we have since exhausted the process,” said Communications Director John de los Angeles for AFSCME 3299.
De los Angeles said that the service and patient care workers who AFSCME represents includes (but is not limited to) custodians, security guards, groundskeepers, respiratory therapist, vocational nurses, and MRI technologists.
He also said that the failure to reach a new contract with the UC ties back to growing inequities within the UC workforce in regards to income, race, and gender.
“At the end of the day, what this is all about to our workers is inequality,” he told The Bottom Line.
De los Angeles points to a research review conducted by AFSCME that used the UC’s own employment data. The report found that the top one percent of UC salaries grew by 64 percent between 2005 and 2015. The review also found that women and people of color make as much as 21 percent less than white men for starting wages.
“A lot of the issues bargained at the table were aimed at closing these widening gaps within the workforce at UC,” de los Angeles said. He also said that workers are striking over UC’s failure to address these inequalities.
When it comes to the process of holding a strike, de los Angeles explained that the power to call for a strike lies solely in the hands of the union’s bargaining team. The union members select the team to represent them in negotiations. De los Angeles said that the bargaining team is also responsible for calling for a vote to authorize a strike that they can then enact.
The UC Office of the President told The Bottom Line that the UC had provided AFSCME leaders with a “competitive” proposal, which it says AFSCME rejected without conducting a vote among their ranks.
“We strongly disagree with AFSCME’s decision to strike, which will negatively impact patients, students and the UC community,” said Stephanie Beechem, a spokesperson for UCOP. “AFSCME service employees at UC — including custodians, gardeners, food service workers and facilities maintenance staff — are compensated at or above the market and in some cases, by as much as 17 percent higher than comparable jobs. What the union demanded was a six percent annual wage increase, which we think is unfair to other UC employees — both represented and non-represented. This is twice what other UC employees have received.”
“UC workers’ grievances stem from a lack of improvement over working conditions and wages,” said Ana Fabian, a third year sociology and Chicano/a studies major, an advocate of organized labor.
“On campus and across California we have seen workers’ conditions and wages not improving and their benefits being cut,” said Fabian, who supports AFSCME 3299, to The Bottom Line.
Other labor advocates, such as fifth year chemical engineering major Michael Kile, agree.
“The contract will result in a pay cut for workers when you take into account benefit cuts, such as cuts in healthcare,” said Kile, who is an intern at AFSCME 3299.
De los Angeles claimed that the employment terms the UC is currently trying to force upon workers is keeping both parties from reaching an agreement.
“UC is forcing employment terms on workers that would raise healthcare premiums, raise the retirement age, and flatten our wages for the next several years,” he said.
Fabian also said that there is a lack of appreciation for workers of color by the UC.
“Black and brown bodies’ labor is being seen as disposable and there is a continued injustice in conditions in labor across different marginalized communities,” she said.
She also said that improved wages are essential to ensure that all workers can support themselves. “They deserve decent wages so they can afford housing, not be forced to get two jobs, and not face food insecurity,” Fabian said.
De los Angeles said he hopes that the strike will hold UC accountable to its claim of being an engine of social mobility.
“The UC needs to do better not only for students, not only for workers, but also for taxpayers who are supporting it,” de los Angeles said.
This article has been updated to include comment from the UC Office of the President.