After over a year of negotiations and a strike that shut down the campus last November, the 3299 branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union and the UC have reached a tentative four-year deal.
The agreement calls for a 13.5 percent wage increase over four years for more than 8,300 service workers employed by the UC. Despite the agreement, the union had to concede to 80 percent of the university’s demands, according to the AFSCME website.
Although the agreement is not yet ratified by AFSCME members, it prevented AFSCME’s planned week-long strike. The union voted 96 percent in favor of the strike on Feb. 14. The tentative agreement was reached days before the strike would have taken place.
“The fact that we’ve lifted thousands of workers out of poverty, won protections against contracting out and won for the first time a freeze in healthcare rates make this agreement historic,” said AFSCME 3299 communications director Todd Stenhouse. “It is a testament to the unflinching resolve and the valuable contributions service workers make to the UC.”
Ninety-nine percent of the service workers were eligible for some form of public assistance while on the previous contract, according to the AFSCME website. The strike would have given AFSCME workers space to air their grievances against inadequate wages and staffing, among other disagreements.
Miguel Alvarez, a member of AFSCME 3299 who is also a longtime employee of UCSC, said the contract will benefit all of the service workers across the UC.
“I’ve been working here for 15 years and this is the best contract we’ve gotten in those 15 years,” Alvarez said.
For more than a year, members of AFSCME expressed the need for safe staffing in the UC service centers and medical centers, criticizing the UC for hiring temporary or contract workers who are often inadequately trained or inexperienced. In the agreement, the UC included affordable healthcare for current employees and retirees, as well as new safe staffing protections.
“We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in workplace injuries over the last five years. One of the contributing causes of those injuries is an increasing trend toward outsourcing service work, which is the most physically demanding labor at the UC,” Stenhouse said. “The more experienced, highly qualified people we have doing this incredibly physically demanding work, obviously the safer the environment will be for our members and for all who live, work and rely on UC facilities.”
Chancellor George Blumenthal also raised a concern surrounding the effect that the agreement will have on the UC’s already tight budget for the upcoming years.
“Their agreement does call for some significant salary increases over the next few years. Ultimately, we’ll have to evaluate what that means in terms of our budget,” Blumenthal said. “I don’t feel particularly good being a part of or leading an organization that’s underpaying the people who work for it. On the other hand we have a job to do and a limited budget to do it, so we’re torn by those competing interests.”
Alvarez said the contract will have a positive effect on the service workers and the students alike.
“There will always be people with unsatisfied mindsets, but someone with a good mindset can see this is a great contract,” Alvarez said. “If you keep the workers happy, then they can provide better service for students.”
While the agreement meets many of AFSCME’s demands, the wage increase failed to meet the requests of the union. Despite the victory for the service workers, 13,000 patient care and technical workers still wait for the UC to continue negotiations in scheduled meetings.