Following the breakdown of wage negotiations between the University of California and UC union members, 20,000 workers are voting this week to decide whether to call a system-wide strike.
According to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, UC patient care and service workers are voting from May 17 to 22 to determine if union members will go on strike at 10 UC campuses and five medical centers statewide. UCSB service workers will cast their ballots in the Arbor from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, with results from the strike vote announced Friday.
If union members approve the strike – which requires a majority vote at each UC location to pass – approximately 500 UCSB service workers could walk off the job as soon as 10 days later.
Since October, AFSCME has been meeting with UC executives to negotiate a new three-year contract. Two weeks ago, however, negotiators reached an impasse as the UC and AFSCME were unable to reach an agreement.
Bob Pinto, a laborer and elected member of the AFSCME bargaining team, said the union sees the strike as a last resort.
“We don’t want to go on strike, but we’re pretty fed up,” Pinto said. “There’s been so little movement. … We’d still be bargaining if we saw significant movement.”
Pinto said he predicted workers would vote for the strike, although he would not comment on the length or extent of the possible strike.
However, if approved, AFSCME Executive Vice President Julian Posadas said the union will wait to implement the strike until 10 days after the votes are tallied in order to allow workers at local medical centers to legally suspend their services.
Donna Carpenter, vice chancellor of administrative services, said the impact of the potential service strike on campus operations would depend on its duration.
“These employees are absolutely critical to us,” Carpenter said. “If they’re not here, we’ll be impacted.”
Meanwhile, Posadas said in addition to the proposed strike, the union is asking for a 21 percent increase in pay over the next three years.
Posadas also said union negotiators are calling for the implementation of a step system, in which workers’ salaries would increase with every year of employment.
“We believe each year a worker invests in the UC system should be rewarded,” Posadas said. “Service workers from other Santa Barbara institutions such as Santa Barbara City College already pay their workers under the guidelines of the step system.”
Carpenter said a wage survey done by the UCSB Human Resources Dept. last fall indicated AFSCME workers were underpaid in some areas. As a result, UC negotiators had offered $406,000 worth of salary increases to workers in positions with the greatest wage disparity.
“I have to remain optimistic that the UC comes to an agreement with AFSCME,” Carpenter said.
To coincide with the potential AFSCME strike, the Student-Worker Coalition held a bake sale on campus last week and collected approximately 400 cards from students and faculty pledging solidarity with the laborers.
Ulysses Gonzalez, a second-year sociology major and SWC member, said he hopes more students continue to voice support for the workers on campus.
“It’s really a disheartening that poverty wages are happening here,” Gonzalez said. “Workers feel more motivated knowing students are involved.”