Another offer by the university failed to meet the American Federation of Service, Care and Municipal Employees Local 3299’s (AFSCME 3299) workers’ demands, leading the union to announce a three-day strike from Oct. 23-25. The union’s patient care technical unit will be staging a walkout at all UC medical centers, with the service worker unit striking in solidarity on campuses. All of this follows a three-day service worker strike in May and will mark the second strike for the union this calendar year.
“It’s just frustrating because I like working here,” said a patient care worker at UC Santa Cruz who wished to remain anonymous. “I want to continue to work here, but if I can’t get a rate of pay that I can get elsewhere I might have to move on.”
The patient care workers of AFSCME 3299 were recently offered a contract by the UC, which failed to meet their demands for wage increases and parking fees, among other things. In response, the union voted 96 percent in favor of a strike and submitted its official announcement to UC administrators on Oct.12.
When the service workers struck for three days in May, the patient care branch along with two other unions — the California Nurses Association (CNA), which represents 14,000 nurses at the UC, and the University Professional and Technical Employees, CWA 9119 (UPTE-CWA) — struck in solidarity.
“I think the fact that two additional unions voted to join us [last May] is important to the gravity of this issue,” said AFSCME 3299 communications director John de los Angeles. UPTE-CWA will once again be striking in solidarity Oct. 23-25.
“We see what the nurses have gotten,” de los Angeles said. “And we’re just, quite frankly, a little insulted that the university is giving service and patient care workers what we perceive to be second-class treatment.”
After 20 months of negotiations, CNA settled a five-year contract this past September, giving them a 15 percent wage increase over the contract term.
This is a sharp contrast to the contracts posed to AFSCME 3299 service workers last spring and patient care workers earlier this month, which offered a 3 percent across-the-board wage increase and one time, lump-sum payment of $750. The university also failed to meet the union’s demand to freeze healthcare premiums and it introduced the option of opting out of a pension plan for a 401 (k) instead.
401(k) plans allow the employee to take a small portion of their paycheck and invest it in the country’s stock exchange, which relies heavily on the economy’s stability.
According to de los Angeles, however, the most frustrating part of the offer is its failure to address outsourcing.
“We have always maintained that our biggest issue is inequality [which] is, quite frankly, driven by [the] university’s desire to outsource these jobs,” said de los Angeles.
Outsourcing allows the UCs to hire workers without a contract and to abuse labor laws through various loopholes. The outsourced workers are often hired straight out of graduation and are given only a brief training before starting work, according to AFSCME. Career workers are left to train these workers — who are often rotated — and make up for the work they can’t perform. The constant rotation can lead to understaffing.
Although the university maintains they have only gone to outside services on limited occasions, workers tell a different story.
“They’ve outsourced our nursing staff,” said a UCSC medical assistant who chose to remain anonymous. “It’s a constant thing that we’re overworked. We don’t have enough staff, our patient volume is too high for how many staffers we do have. It’s an everyday challenge to get things done.”
Sabina Wildman, member of the Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC) expressed the importance of student turnout now that the union voted to strike. She pointed out it’s the workers students interact with every day, not the regents or administrators — who have seen increased wages in the past three years.
“We know in WSSC that students have a special privilege in the university space. In the past, when workers have won big wins, it’s because students show up en masse,” Wildman said. “When we think who’s really supporting students on campus […] and who makes this community a positive, safe space, it’s workers on campus. They run the UC.”
According to Claire Doan, the UC spokesperson, however, the university felt AFSCME leaders were prioritizing their agenda over the needs of patients, students, employees and the public.
“Rather than engage in constructive talks at the negotiating table, AFSCME leaders are using the threat to strike as a scare tactic,” said Doan. “We will do everything possible to limit the negative impact of a strike — and AFSCME leaders’ predictable theatrics.”
Nicolas Gutierrez, a UCSC service worker, countered that, throughout the year and eight month bargaining process, the UC failed to move toward any of the union’s demands.
“The vote [sends] a clear message to the UC,” Gutierrez said. “You forced us to make this decision, you forced us to go out on strike.”