Every day, thousands of students utilize the services of hardworking and dedicated members of the UC staff. Yet most people are unaware these individuals have been treated unfairly, receiving low wages and facing serious abuse from the UC administration.
On Nov. 20, the AFSCME 3299, a union of UC workers and staff, organized a major strike across all 10 campuses to combat the many unjust offenses it experienced. At UC Santa Cruz, these workers set up picket lines at both entrances to oppose the consistently poor treatment they have received from the UC system. AFSCME 3299 originally organized the strike over claims that the UC illegally intimidated hospital workers who were involved in a strike that took place in May.
While the hospital workers have reached a tentative agreement with the UC, AFSCME decided to move forward with the strike to “contend unsafe staffing levels and unfair labor practices,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
AFSCME 3299 represents the largest union in the UC system, with more than 22,000 UC workers in two units. Included in this group are 8,000 service workers and 13,000 patient care technical workers. Many of these people are involved with some of the most important organizations and resources on campus, including the dining halls and the health center.
Most of these workers’ jobs involve physically demanding tasks that can cause a strain on their lives. Recently, injury rates for these workers have skyrocketed. A few weeks ago, a UCLA custodian worker was fired for speaking out over concerns for his safety. Yet, several workers report they have received both written and verbal threats from their bosses to remain silent about their complaints.
In addition to facing discrimination, many AFSCME 3299 workers struggle with low wages. Eugene Stokes, a 53-year-old senior building maintanence worker at UC Berkeley, spoke out about how his income affects some of his everyday decisions, according to the AFSCME 3299 website.
“Yesterday, I had to choose between paying the mortage, or helping my daughter with her tuition,” Stokes said. “On other days, that choice is between medicine and food.”
The average salary of AFSCME 3299 workers is $36,000, and the average retirement fund at age 60 is approximately $17,500 per year.
At the same time as these low wages are dealt to these service workers, the number of UC employees making $250,000 on average or more in salary more than doubled since 2007. During this time, payroll costs for the top 1 percent of UC employees grew by more than $250 million each year, according to the AFSCME 3299 website.
As the money moves upward, service workers are offered significantly lower salaries that do not cover many basic costs of living. The administration needs to reallocate funds away from those holding jobs in the upper tiers of the system and toward the individuals who help sustain each campus.
Several other groups also protested in unison with AFSCME 3299, including the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2865, which consists of UC academic student employees, graduate student instructors, readers, tutors, teaching assistants and others. UAW 2865 is also striking over claims that the UC management treats them unfairly, citing a recent incident at UC Berkeley in which several graduate student union members were mockingly filmed by the campus police when they tried to deliver a letter demanding change to the dean of the graduate division.
The bullying and disrespect AFSCME 3299 and the UAW 2865 face is simply unacceptable, especially considering the profound contributions of these workers at each campus. If those involved in the UC administration think they can get away with abusing their employees, this strike is one way to begin combating the systemic inequalities currently in place.
Although the strike may be over, City on a Hill asks its audience to get more involved in the issues facing the AFSCME 3299 workers. Once all of the UC’s communities become more aware of the treatment of these hardworking individuals, then we may be one step closer to curbing the grave discrimination these people continue to experience.
It’s time the UC administration started realizing the staff of this campus are an indispensable group of people who deserve to have their voices heard.