The Iron is Hot

Strike expected as UC workers vote in response to bargaining stalemate

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UPDATE: AFSCME Local 3299 workers voted with 97 percent in favor to strike early Thursday morning. According to AFSCME 3299 communications director John de los Angeles, the union will provide 10 day’s notice of any work stoppage to the UCOP and have a Patient Protection Task Force of striking workers prepared to respond to emergencies at the medical centers. The strike will last until union demands are met.

They’re ready — is the campus?

Service and patient care workers across UC campuses, donning buttons featuring the slogan “I AM READY,” voted on a potential strike to put pressure on the university to meet their demands in contract renegotiations.

As of late Wednesday, votes from different campuses were still being tallied, but the vote to strike was “looking like it’s going to pass,” said John de los Angeles, spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 3299), the union that represents UC workers.

The vote was taken April 17-18 in response to stagnant bargaining negotiations with the UC Office of the President (UCOP). If the vote passes, AFSCME 3299 will give 10 days notice to UCOP and then strike at will.

“Point blank, we are disappointed in the UC’s failure to come up with any proposal to address the outsourcing and the widening inequality [issues] we’ve been raising,” said de los Angeles, “[…] Now that we’ve exhausted the bargaining process, we see this as the logical next step — our last option.”

At UC Santa Cruz, the ballots were taken in Quarry Plaza, in front of the Rachel Carson and Oakes Dining Hall, the College Nine and Ten Dining Hall and in front of Barn G where the custodial office is located. The votes will be counted at the local AFSCME 3299 offices and then tallied by Thursday morning.

Table negotiations between the union and the Board of Regents have been ongoing since January, but workers have been without a contract since June 2016. On April 6, UC presented its final contract offer to AFSCME, which included a 3 percent raise across the board, health benefits  at the same rates as other non-UC employees with analogous salaries and a choice between a pension or a 401k plan for new hires. Existing employees would see no change to their retirement plans.

“We wanted to secure our jobs,” said Veronica Garcia Sumano, Rachel Carson Dining Hall worker and AFSCME organizer about the contract proposal. “So they don’t contract out our jobs, or have emergency layoffs. We just want to ensure that.”

For Sumano and other workers, the current contract proposal does not meet these parameters.

“We are disappointed AFSCME leaders chose to reject what we believe to be a fair and competitive final settlement proposal,” said UCOP media relations official Stephanie Beechem in an email. “We strongly disagree with their decision to ask employees to authorize a strike, which will impact patients, students and the UC community.”

In addition to months of negotiations, the offer follows several protests organized by the union to address racial injustices and workers’ rights at the UC.  These included the February march for David Cole, a UC Berkeley dining hall worker who was violently arrested during Feb. 1 AFSCME protests.

John de los Angeles also pointed to the report published earlier this month by AFSCME, titled “Pioneering Inequality,” as a reason for striking. The report exposed the wage inequality of UC workers and found that between 2005 and 2015, the ratio between average salaries for UC’s top 1 percent of wage earners and all other employees grew from 7:1 to 9:1, with pay for top administrators rising 64 percent.

Meanwhile, average starting wages for women and people of color with occupations within AFSCME are up to 21 percent less than white people and men. AFSCME 3299 represents over 24,000 UC workers systemwide, from daytime custodians to radiology technicians. At UCSC, this includes people essential to campus life — dining hall workers, bus drivers and community safety officers, for example.

The study also notes that these trends are consistent across all UC campuses. There have also been a number of high profile cases of labor abuse, including alleged reports from UC Berkeley sporting events workers of 80-hour work weeks without overtime.

“It is time for an agreement, and for you to receive the guaranteed wage increases, and excellent medical and retirement benefits we are offering. You deserve a contract, not a strike,” said Dwaine B. Duckett, UC systemwide human resources vice president in a statement by UCOP.

However, the workers don’t see it that way.

“UC sees the education as a business. They will say, ‘Yeah, we support the employees,’ but to what point?” said dining hall worker and AFSCME organizer Veronica Garcia Sumano. “If they really support the employees, we shouldn’t be going to strike every time we’re trying to negotiate a contract.”

Union members encourage students to take a stance with the workers if the strike passes. Some other supporting groups include the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE Local 3) union and the Student-Workers Union (UAW Local 2865). Student involvement shows the UC the intersectional alliance  that lends gravity to the demands the union wants to pass, de los Angeles said.

“It’s so important for students to participate in this because […] you can’t ask this worker to not go to his second job when he needs to for his kid’s medical bill,” de los Angeles added. “Students have the time that workers don’t to protest.”

City on a Hill Press will continue to report on this issue and provide an update after the votes are counted.