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Officials from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 (AFSCME), the UC service and patient care technical workers union, announced the organization will be planning yet another strike involving over 20,000 UC workers, after attempts at reaching a new settlement contract with UC administration has failed.
Patient care technical workers voted to authorize the sympathy strike with 96 percent support, although the date and duration of the strike have not yet been determined and are to be set by AFSCME 3299’s Bargaining Team. The announcement comes after members of AFSCME 3299 — which includes the largest number of UC workers and some of the lowest paid employees in the University — have been in negotiations with UC officials for over a year and organized a statewide strike last November. According to union officials, AFSCME 3299 holds the support of a wide range of organizations and individuals—including members of UC faculty, California Student Faculty Association, Student Regents, the Teamsters, lecturers, police officers, the UC Student-Worker Coalition and more than half a dozen elected officials.
AFSCME 3299 Spokesman Todd Stenhouse said the union includes 8,300 of the lowest paid workers in the UC system, despite bargaining with the UC for well over a year. Stenhouse said the union has already “conceded to the UC position on 75 percent of the issues” so employee members are now asking for more from the University.
“All of this is in an effort to win fair wage increases and safer work and staffing standards,” Stenhouse said.
According to Stenhouse, 99 percent of UC service workers are income eligible for some form of public assistance and workplace injuries at the UC at amongst service workers have increased by a whopping 20 percent in just the last five years. However, he said the University’s outsourcing of service jobs remains one of the biggest issues drawing criticism from UC employees, and it is a practice he says is inconsistent with the CSU and community college systems.
“There has been an increase in the UC [of] moving service work to outsource low wage contractors,” Stenhouse said. “UC’s current contracting-out practices conflict with the California State and community colleges’ — which have real limitations placed on that practice.”
Stenhouse said the UC has recently made better offers to meet AFSCME demands but more bargaining is needed to fully resolve their disagreement.
“Bargaining restarted in the fall and the UC finally made a little bit of movement a couple weeks ago, but it was stalled on these same few issues,” Stenhouse said.
Some of the issues drawing considerable attention from the union are related to staffing, according to Stenhouse, who said the UC is not properly dealing with workplace injury and hiring practices.
“We need to deal also with these staffing issues, because what good is a raise if you are permanently injured on the job or if you are out of a job because the UC decided to outsource it to some low-wage, inexperienced contractor?,” Stenhouse said.
However, UC Office of the President Spokesperson Shelly Meron said the UC has already offered numerous solutions to AFSCME demands. She said the offers given by university officials have been substantial but union officials are still seeking more.
“We think union leaders should allow their members to vote on the offers we’re putting on the table,” Meron said in an email. “We’ve offered generous wage increases, the same pension formula as other recent labor contracts UC has settled, improved layoff protections, and more.”
According to Meron, this is the third time within a year AFSCME has taken a strike vote and such measures have numerous negative repercussions.
“These strikes are extremely disruptive and negatively impact services for patients at our medical centers and students at our campuses,” Meron said in an email. “The strikes have also cost the university millions of dollars – about $10 million each day a strike goes on.”
While Meron said the UC’s offers at the bargaining table have been fair, the union has not shown the University the same degree of “flexibility” during negotiations. However, Stenhouse said “the time has come” for the UC to offer their workers a “fair” settlement contract.
“The hope every day is that the UC will come to the table with a fair settlement offer that addresses these core concerns of a widening income gap at UC and unsafe staffing levels,” Stenhouse said. “It’s our hope that they will accept an 80 percent victory on their part as good enough and afford our members a level of dignity and fairness that I’m quite certain they’ve earned.”
Furthermore, while Meron said the strikes are costly to the UC, Stenhouse said they are a necessary action that is instigated by the University itself.
“Strikes cost them money,” Stenhouse said. “A strike at UC is a wound that UC administrators insist on inflicting upon themselves. Let’s be clear about what the cost of the status quo is: the cost is thousands of UC workers living in poverty.”
According to Stenhouse, union members want the UC to continue making concessions and provide more fair negotiations that address the income gap he said exists within the University.
“We don’t seek conflict; we seek cooperation with the UC,” Stenhouse said. “Our members are not going to accept a situation where full time workers are paid so little, they have to sleep in their cars or where UC is increasingly leading a race to the bottom.”
Nonetheless, Meron said the UC has shown “flexibility” at the bargaining table.
“We have shown significant flexibility on issues AFSCME has said are important to them, but union leaders have repeatedly rejected our offers and refused to show the same flexibility,” Meron said.
According to third-year sociology major Rita Fernando, the fact that workers agree upon striking even while negotiations with the UC are underway points to the inadequacy of current working conditions.
“I think it’s sad the workers have to strike again just to be heard,” Fernando said “The workers are important—the UC could not run without out them. Everyone needs to understand that if the workers aren’t given good conditions or treated properly, our whole system suffers.”
A version of this story appeared on page 1 of Wednesday, February 19, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.