The American Federation of State, County and Municpal Employees, or AFSCME 3299, declared a patient and care service worker strike against the University of California this past Friday on allegations of attempts by the UC to illegally threaten union-involved employees.
After a stagnant tug-of-war over employee UC pension reform that has persisted since October 2012, this will be the second time AFSCME will strike since their last two-day strike of UC Medical Centers in May. Despite the University’s efforts to come to a compromise with AFSCME after welcoming them back to the bargaining table — in response to AFSCME’s Unfair Labor Practice Strike vote last week — AFSCME refused to budge.
UC Office of the President Spokesperson Dianne Klein said the union responded unreasonably to negotiations to the future detriment of UC patients and the UC as a whole.
“We showed flexibility and responsiveness,” Klein said. “We proposed several packages that included significant movement on wages, pension, health care benefits, and other issues that are important to the union. AFSCME rejected all of these offers.”
According to AFSCME representative Todd Stenhouse, the refusal had more to do with the UC’s behavior in other facets of the employee work environment — particularly the “use of illegal intimidation and coercion” and the University’s “levels of unsafe staffing” — not contract bargaining.
“It’s important to remember the context here, of bargaining,” Stenhouse said. “Bargaining over contract is one very distinct and separate issue. Illegal intimidation at the workplace is an entirely separate issue. It is separate and distinct from the contract fight.”
But Klein said the Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB — who are holding hearings on the allegations — have not determined that the university has done anything wrong, and that the issuance of a complaint has only “allowed the matter to be adjudicated.”
“I want to point out that AFSCME is characterizing this as an unfair labor practice strike, and they allege that we intimidated employees during the strike in May…but they did that as a negotiation tactic,” Klein said.
According to Klein, hearings are scheduled for March in Oakland at the PERB offices, and a decision will be made after these hearings. Klein also said the union’s claims that UCOP committed unfair labor practices are “simply not true.”
However, Stenhouse said issues regarding illegal intimidation and “chronically understaffed” workers are pressing matters and that the union is looking to address “real, serious problems” like pension reform.
“The UC has gone to great pains to conflate the two, but there is no conflation to be had,” Stenhouse said. “If we’re fighting for safe staffing in our contract, fat lot of good it does us if UC is threatening worker’s jobs…They did it in May, and some of that is continuing to this present day.”
But Klein said the strike will not be beneficial for either side, “We do not believe the strike, whether it’s in sympathy or whatever, is productive for anybody,” she said. “I mean, it certainly is detrimental to our patients and our campuses.”
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of November 13, 2013’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.