Approximately 20,000 University of California union workers voted last week to approve a systemwide strike at all UC medical centers and campuses that may go into effect as early as June 4.
Stemming from nearly ten months of failed wage negotiations between the UC and its patient care and service employees, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees voted in favor of holding a two-day strike, scheduled for June 4th to 5th. The results, tabulated Thursday night at midnight, revealed 96.9 percent of UC patient care staff and 97.5 percent of UC service staff voted in favor of the strike.
About 500 service workers are currently employed on UCSB’s campus as custodians, Student Health workers, groundskeepers, food service employees and maintenance staff.
Bob Pinto, a UCSB laborer and elected bargaining team member for AFSCME, said negotiations with the UC continued until Thursday night, but ended without significant progress.
“Their battle cry is that the state doesn’t have enough money for what we’re asking,” Pinto said. “But the UC system does.”
However, Howard Pripas, Executive Director of UC systemwide labor relations, said in a press release that the decision to strike hinders progress and will not impact the UC’s negotiations with the union.
“AFSCME’s strike threat is very unfortunate as it does not help move us closer to an agreement,” Pripas said. “But we will not be deterred from our goal of getting good contracts for our dedicated employees.”
According to a UC press release, the strike will not severely disrupt campus operations, as non-striking workers will likely be shuffled around to accommodate vacant positions.
Additionally, although the University hopes to come to an agreement before the strike, all UC campuses and medical centers have contingency plans laid out to guarantee continued service to UC patients and students.
While the UC has been negotiating with AFSCME since the wage debate began in October 2007, both parties have failed to reach a compromise.
According to a UC press release, AFSCME has rejected the UC’s latest proposals, which would include giving more than $25 million in combined wage increases during the first year of the contract.
However, AFSCME maintains that university employees are being paid insufficient wages and that UC wages are substandard when compared with the payment to other employees of similar institutions in California.
An AFSCME press release states that UC medical staff, custodians and food service workers are paid an estimated 25 percent less than employees of comparable hospitals and community colleges in California.
AFSCME Executive Vice President Julian Posadas said the union is asking for a 21 percent pay increase over the next three years, as well as the implementation of a step system, which would increase workers’ pay for each year they are employed at the university.
Meanwhile, Ulysses Gonzalez, a second-year sociology major and Student-Worker Coalition affiliate, said he hopes students continue to back campus workers as the strike date nears.
“We’ve gotten over 1,000 student pledges to support the workers,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll be participating with the workers and showing our support.”