UC Santa Cruz social media has abounded with rumors and discussion of upcoming action, dining hall shutdowns and chancellor confrontations. But the actual plans of the strike, and the reasons that have led to this labor strike, remain unclear to many students. In this guide, City on a Hill unpacks the upcoming strike, negotiations and action history and its potential impacts on the campus.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local (AFSCME 3299), the largest labor union in the University of California, will hold a systemwide strike on May 7-9. Across the UC, 24,000 service and patient care workers will be participating in the strike. This includes custodians, loop bus drivers and dining hall workers among other employees essential to the functioning of the university system.
The strike, which AFSCME 3299 members voted to authorize on April 19 with 97 percent approval, comes after a year of failed contract negotiations between AFSCME 3299 and the UC. It also follows the release of the Pioneering Inequality report commissioned by AFSCME 3299, which exposes disparities in income distribution stemming from racial and gender discrimination in the UC.
“We’ve bargained in good faith for over a year to address the widening income, racial and gender disparities that frontline, low-wage workers at UC are living every day,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger in a news release. “Instead of joining us in the effort to arrest these trends, UC has insisted on deepening them — leaving workers no option but to strike.”
According to the Pioneering Inequality report, AFSCME 3299 represents the lowest-paid workers at the UC — which is also the most diverse segment of UC employees — with 79 percent of AFSCME members being non-white and 56 percent female.
UC-wide picket lines are expected from AFSCME 3299 members, but unionized strike participants are not planning to block access to campuses, said AFSCME 3299 communications director John de los Angeles.
Who is Striking
About 600 AFSCME-represented workers are employed at UC Santa Cruz, and those participating in the strike are expected to begin the strike and picketing at the base of campus starting at 4 a.m. on May 7 until 4 a.m. on May 10, according to a campuswide email from Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Marlene Tromp.
A sympathy strike organized by UC workers in two other unions, University Professional & Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America (UPTE-CWA) and the California Nurses Association (CNA), will be occurring alongside the AFSCME strike on May 8 and 9.
UPTE-CWA Local 9119 represents over 13,000 employees at the UC, ranging from research associates to health care professionals. CNA represents over 14,000 registered nurses across all 10 UC health centers, as well as the university’s five major medical centers.
“UC refuses to bring AFSCME the kind of contract that they deserve and all front-line workers need to stand with one another to make sure that none of us are left behind,” according to UPTE-CWA in a news release regarding the sympathy strike. “We are very familiar with having to fight for the same issues — fair wages, a secure retirement and staffing levels and other conditions that promote quality research, education and patient care.”
The UC, however, disputes AFSCME’s representation of the contract negotiations, believing they offered a sufficient offer to avoid a strike.
“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 to City on a Hill Press on April 20. “We strongly disagree with their decision to ask employees to authorize a strike, which will impact patients, students and the UC community.”
AFSCME 3299 Action and Demands
After a year at the bargaining table, multiple UC-wide protests and a list of demands from AFSCME, no successful negotiations have been reached between AFSCME workers and the UC Office of the President (UCOP) — culminating in AFSCME’s decision to hold a systemwide economic strike. An economic strike is one centering on advocating for changes to economic factors such as higher wages and the improvement of working conditions.
The starting pay for Latinx workers at the UC is 21 percent lower than their white peers and Black UC workers earn 20 percent less than white workers on average, according to AFSCME 3299’s Pioneering Inequality report. Overall, the lowest-paid group of workers in the UC system is Black women, who earn 10 percent less as service workers and 23 percent less as patient care workers than white men in those respective positions.
In a a UC-wide protest intended to draw attention to new contract negotiations David Cole, a Black dining hall employee at UC Berkeley and AFSCME member, was tackled and arrested by UCPD during. This protest day, which occured on Feb. 1, was selected by AFSCME 3299 because it correlated with the 50th anniversary of the death of two Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee who were forced to work in unsafe conditions and died as a result.
“February 1 was picked because we found it pretty ironic, I suppose, disgusting even, that 50 years later in supposedly one of the most liberal institutions around — the University of California — we’re fighting those same things,” said John de los Angeles speaking to unequal worker treatment.
Following the Pioneering Inequality report release on April 1, a UC-wide AFSCME 3299 action was hastily organized to take place on April 4 to address the growing inequality of low-wage women and people of color employed by the UC. This action coincided with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed during the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, a response to the deaths of their aforementioned coworkers. The AFSCME 3299 April action resulted in 18 arrests of students, workers and community leaders at UCLA .
The most recent bargaining debate between AFSCME 3299 representatives and UCOP representatives prompted the vote for a unionwide strike. In a response to bargaining requests that occurred almost monthly over the last year, UCOP did not comply with AFSCME 3299 demands to freeze health care costs, increase benefits, cease outside contraction of jobs or to strengthen sexual harassment protections, among others. Instead, UCOP submitted a solution that AFSCME 3299, in its formal list of demands, called the UC’s “‘newest’ deceitful and insulting bait-and switch proposals.
Loop drivers are included in ASFSCME 3299 and will be participating in the strike. Metro busses will be running, but busses will not cross the picket line in solidarity with the strikers.
On campus, Transportation and Parkings Services (TAPS) is expecting to run its Disability Van Service (DVS), but other on-campus shuttles services are not expected to run, said UCSC director of news and media relations Scott Hernandez-Jason in an email.
For meal access for on-campus residents, UCSC Dining released an email on May 2 advertising that it will provide “meal accommodation bags” to be picked up on May 4-6. A student with a meal plan can show their student ID at Colleges Nine and Ten and Porter/Kresge dining halls and receive one meal bag per swipe. Bags can be filled with non-perishable items.
During the strike, UCSC Dining will attempt to serve prepared food in the Colleges Nine and Ten Dining Hall, which will be open along with the Rachel Carson College/Oakes and Cowell/Stevenson dining halls for what is advertised as a “Seat and Heat” program. For the “Seat and Heat,” students can come into the dining halls and heat their previously distributed bagged meals.
Additionally, the SUA food pantry located on the first floor of the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) will be open May 6 from 12-3 p.m.
Staffing for the dining halls has been a point of contention for the last two weeks, as it was originally expected that RAs would staff various locations.
UCSC Health Services released a statement on May 2 via the UCSC News Center stating preparatory measures being taken in the event that the Cowell Health Center closes.
The health center encourages students to refill prescriptions by contacting the pharmacy this week before May 4 via Health e-Messenger or by calling the Refill Line at (831) 459-1546. Prescription orders should also be picked up before the pharmacy closes at 4:30 p.m. on May 4. Scheduled appointments during the strike days should also be rescheduled. This can be done by calling (831) 459-2500 for Health Center appointments and at (831) 459-2628 for UCSC Counseling and Psychological Services.
As part of safety precautions, AFSCME 3299 submitted a 10-day notice to UCSC administration on April 26, as a requirement of existing union contracts. This notice outlined how the union will be creating a Patient Protection Task Force, which will help UCs staff hospitals or medical centers in cases of emergency.
For students with UC SHIP seeking off-campus health care, a UC SHIP/Anthem ID number will need to be provided to health care centers, this number is located on the UC SHIP/Anthem ID card which can be accessed on the Student Health App. UC SHIP students will also have to pay copays online before visiting in-network providers: $25 for medical and psychiatry and $20 for counseling, according to Student Health Services.
“We’re going to have picket lines, but we’re not looking to cause any threat to public health and safety,” John de los Angeles said. “Blocking entrances to medical ways, those are not things that we intend to do, nor do we advise those types of things. Pickets will be everywhere, they should be massive but we’ve taken precautions to make sure that they are safe.”
By University Council-AFT union contract, lecturers are prohibited from engaging in sympathy strikes or any other activity that interferes with university operations. This includes canceling class or encouraging other lecturers to cancel class. Lecturers are permitted to hold class on the picket line or join the picket line while they are not scheduled to teach so long as they do not withhold their labor.
Teaching assistants and graduate students, represented by UAW Local 2865-UC Student-Workers Union, are also are not allowed to formally organize or endorse sympathy strikes. However, individuals can withhold their labor as a form of freedom of expression during strikes, but may not be paid for the work they don’t perform.
Faculty are encouraged by the university to communicate with their students in the event that campus access is limited to make alternative plans.