After voting on Oct. 8 and 9, members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, the University of California’s largest employee union, have decided to strike after 96 percent of voters voted “yes” on Friday.
The union, which represents 25,000 workers, is expecting to strike for three days between Oct. 23-25. They will also be joined in solidarity by the University Professional Technical Employee-Communications Workers of America (UPTE-CWA), another union that represents 15,000 UC workers.
This strike follows the three-day walk-out last May, in which 53,000 workers across the UC system protested against the UC’s practice of outsourcing jobs. Since then, negotiations between the union and the UCs have stalled. Prior to the walk-out in May, AFSCME 3299 published their own research report of the UC system titled Pioneering Inequality, showing data that demonstrated a widening income inequality within the UC system.
Instead of hiring directly, the report states that the UC increasingly “outsources work to over 7,000 contract workers — workers doing the same jobs as its lowest-paid career employees but earning as much as $8.50 less per hour.” The report further stated “many outsourced workers receive no benefits and report illegal labor abuses such as wage theft.”
A union member who requested to remain anonymous told The Bottom Line, “We need contracts with the union so that we can make sure everybody gets equal opportunities because with the contracting out, they can hire anybody they want, and they can pay whatever they want. So, how can we make sure this is equality for all if we don’t have a contract?”
Jarrod, a worker and a Member Action Team leader (MAT) at UCSB for five years, explained, “We’re trying to get a contract that’s as least as good as the one we had before, and right now, what we’re being offered is lower pay increases than we were getting on our previous contracts, so we’re fighting for that right now.”
Furthermore, the report indicates that people of color are disappearing from the UC service and patient care workforce, with a 37 percent decline in 12 years.
The service and patient care jobs, while low-paying, “have historically offered a ladder to the middle class for the most diverse segments of UC’s workforce.” With the outsourcing of jobs to low paying contractors, AFSCME fears that outsourcing “has the effect of destroying career pathways for people of color and trapping them into low-wage positions.”
In addition to lower pay, Jarrod stated that outsourcing weakens the union’s ability to fight for and represent its members. “As a union worker, I definitely want the work to be done by workers in my union because that’s how we keep the work conditions good, so if you’re contracting outside workers you’re just making it harder for the union to be effective,” said Jarrod.
In an email response, the Director of Media Relations for the UC Office of the President, Claire Doan, told The Bottom Line, “AFSCME leaders are putting their agenda above the needs of patients, students, employees, and the public by calling for yet another strike. Union leaders refuse to allow their own members to vote on UC’s competitive contract offer, instead of spending months threatening and now conducting a strike vote.”
In regards to Pioneering Inequality, Doan wrote, “We cannot confirm the accuracy of the report created and written by AFSCME, and it was not part of the independent fact-finding that was conducted as part of our negotiations. That said, we take all issues of fairness and equitable treatment seriously. The university has mechanisms in place to respond to these issues.”
The United Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) also held a labor town hall on Friday in the El Centro War Room. The town hall was set up to talk about the voting results and to generally decide what actions students should take to help the strike.
Juan Donato, lead groundskeeper at UCSB of eight years, was “not surprised” by the decisive voting result. “It just shows how unhappy we are here at UCSB,” Donato said. “This the second time in a row, and we’re ready to go. We are no longer going to be invisible, mute — we’re here to let them know, in reality it’s not what they say it is. The truth is this is not the way it’s supposed to be.”
However, the main talk in the room was student involvement and how to get students involved in the strike.
Kimberly Fuentes, a fourth year environmental studies and geography major and member of USLAC, told The Bottom Line, “This year we’re mostly going to be focusing on getting the students to understand why the workers are striking and increasing student solidarity … we need them to understand these workers are people too.”
AFSCME 3299 has placed much importance on student workers striking as a key component in making the strike effective. AFSCME 3299 stated that they will protect student workers from any trouble they may face from employers if they join the strike.
According to Dylan Kupsh, a second year and USLAC member, “if you’re a student worker the union said that they will support you if you decide to sympathy strike” and “if the AFSCME workers get better, the student workers get better.”
Student workers sympathetic to the strike should contact the USLAC Facebook page to find out how to sympathy strike. The union is expecting to strike for three days on Oct. 23-25.