Defying court orders, 8,500 service workers employed at the University of California are picketing July 14 through 18 against “poverty wages.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees announced plans for the five-day systemwide strike last week after nearly a year of failed labor negotiations with the UC regarding labor contracts for service workers and patient care employees. Of the roughly 500 service workers currently employed at UCSB as custodians, Student Health workers, groundskeepers, food service employees and maintenance staff, 131 had walked out on the job as of Tuesday, according to the UCSB Office of Public Affairs.
Last week, the University of California, in conjunction with the Public Employment Relations Board, filed for a temporary restraining order barring the union from striking. California Supreme Court Judge Patrick Mahoney honored the plaintiff’s request, issuing a legal injunction restraining AFSCME from “calling, engaging in, continuing, sanctioning […] any strike, walkout, slow down, or strike-related work stoppage of any nature against the University of California.”
Despite the court order, AFSCME President Lakesha Harrison said the union would continue to the picket line.
“This strike will happen. It will not be pulled,” Harrison said.
Howard Pripas, Executive Director for System Wide Labor Relations at the University of California said the university condemned the union’s illegal actions.
“The University of California is disappointed that AFSCME has chosen to strike, despite the court’s ruling prohibiting such activity,” Pripas said in a press release. “More importantly, we regret that we have not been able to reach an agreement with the union, and hope its leadership will return to the bargaining table so we can continue our discussions.”
However, AFSCME president Harrison said the union pulled a strike planned earlier in the year after the UC ordered the union back to the bargaining table, claiming they had yet to reach an impasse. According to Harrison, the UC had made some progress in contracts for the 11,500 patient care workers but disregarded the 8,500 service workers.
“When we came back to the bargaining table, the UC had moved some on patient care but would not move on service workers,” Harrison said. “The service workers have nothing, no step system in their contract and nothing to move them out of poverty wages.”
As a result, AFSCME abandoned attempts to negotiate with the University, and ordered a service-worker strike to take place at 10 campuses and five hospitals across the UC system. Members were ordered not to contact the University or enter UC buildings and to report directly to the picket line.
At UCSB, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Paul Desruisseaux said the strike had not affected the campus.
“Managers and other employees have been reassigned, so there are no gaps in providing essential services thus far with the strike,” Desruisseaux said.
UC Spokesman Nicole Savickas said the University sought a restraining order barring the union from striking due to lack of prior notification and safety concerns.
“First, the union failed to provide adequate notice — we only received formal notice that the strike would begin on Monday, June 9, and the union has previously committed to giving us 10 days notice,” Savickas said. “Second, this is a service strike, but in the literature, AFSCME has been encouraging patient care, and saying they would pay patient-care workers for participating in the picket line, which presents a hazard to health and safety.”
Despite AFSCME’s claims that the University failed to make movement on service worker’s contracts, the UC maintains they were open to further negotiations.
“We contacted AFSCME requesting further bargaining and suggesting we had room for further movement, but we received no response — just the strike notification,” Savickas said. “It is difficult to make progress when the other side is not meeting to bargain.”
Still, Harrison claims the union has no choice but to strike for proper pay.
“The UC tried to pull us back to the bargaining table but they having nothing to offer,” said Harrison. “We hope that the strike cripples them. The UC decided service workers are not important, so this will show otherwise.”