A motion to prohibit the use of contracted employees within the UC system — a large point of contention between the University of California system and local unions — was passed by the UC Regents’ Governance Committee on Wednesday afternoon, introducing a new policy in which the use of contracted employees would be prohibited unless under certain circumstances.
The Board of Regents motioned to approve the policy on Thursday when it was on the table for the full Regents’ consideration.
The policy comes on the heels of intense backlash from unions in response to the UC’s outsourcing practices. On Wednesday, workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 3299) held their sixth strike in two years after the union filed six unfair labor practice complaints against the UC in early November. A majority of the complaints addressed the UC’s alleged use of “secretive” contracts to outsource labor.
Despite the news of a policy aimed to internalize a majority of the UC’s workforce, AFSCME is not yet convinced this policy will clear the air on the alleged workforce offenses the UC has committed in the past.
“Over the last several years, thousands of UC service and patient care workers have stood together to expose the university’s unfair, unsafe and often illegal outsourcing of UC jobs. Now, after years of dismissing the problem and the racialized inequality it creates, the Board of Regents is finally acknowledging the need to change course,” the union said in a statement.
“A “policy” isn’t worth the paper its [sic] printed on unless it is actually enforced… UC’s abysmal track record makes clear that only state legislation or binding contract language can deliver the accountability that’s needed to uplift UC’s most vulnerable low wage workers and to stop the university from outsourcing more jobs,” the union continued.
The new policy would cover all campuses and affect a substantial amount of contractible services, such as custodial, food, healthcare and transportation services. No official date for the policy’s implementation has been set, but guidelines to roll out the policy would be established “no later” than Jan. 31, 2020, according to the policy.
Under the umbrella of the new policy, the UC is allotted few instances in which outsourced labor will be permitted: if the services are needed in an emergency, if the UC is unable to provide the required equipment or personnel internally, if the services are related to property transactions, if the services would be more convenient to contract out or if services provided by “registry personnel in clinical operations” are not sufficient enough to respond to “staffing needs,” according to the policy.
The policy also offers contracted workers, who often work for lower wages and with fewer benefits, an opportunity to be adopted by the UC as university employees if the requirements for their employment are met. In turn, the “in-sourcing” of contracted employees will provide them with the full wages and salaries offered by the UC, according to the policy.
“Individuals employed by service contractors who have provided those services to the University on a continuous basis for 12 months or more may request to be converted to University employment,” the policy continued.
In addition to the intake of contracted workers, employees under “covered services” — contracted services that are qualified to remain outsourced — are mandated by the new policy to be provided with “wages and benefits that are equivalent to the University wages and benefits provided to University employees performing the same work,” the policy read.
Furthermore, according to the policy, should “covered services” displace university employees, the university is required to open another position of a similar nature, which must “be in the same bargaining unit and at the same campus, medical center, or Laboratory” and provide matching wages and benefits corresponding to the displaced position.
In total, the new policy is expected to incur roughly an additional $108 million in costs for the UC, as stated at the meeting; the number was calculated by factoring in the cost of supplementing contracted work for insourced work.
Regent Richard Leib commented on the policy at Wednesday’s Governance Committee meeting, predicting that the UC, as the third largest employer in California, may encounter difficulty implementing the policy as “there are certain administrative tasks that are going to make it difficult for our campuses who are under a lot of other pressures.”
However, he maintained that implementing the policy will better reflect the values of the UC and those who work for it.“This is the right thing to do,” he said.
Despite the prospect for better employment opportunities, wages and benefits through the policy, Todd Stenhouse, communication director for AFSCME, said the union was still doubtful. Stenhouse said three bills passed through the California Legislature between 2015 and 2017 — SB 574, 959and 376 — all of which attempted to “ensure commensurate pay between contractors and employees who do the same job.”
The UC “very publicly and vocally” lobbied to kill the three bills, all of which were vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, Stenhouse said. Decisions like these pose a significant threat to employees, he said, especially those where financial insecurity constantly looms.
“These are not individuals that can afford to say, ‘Hey, you know, I’m good without a day’s pay,’” Stenhouse said. “These are people that don’t make a lot of money as it is. They see the pain and the harm and the insecurity that these practices have allowed to fester.”
While Stenhouse sees the policy as a sign of “progress” to AFSCME, the new policy “is hardly a finish line.” Stenhouse wants to see the UC keep its word and carry out on procedures that have been long overdue.
“This is a matter of concern across the state. We’re talking about communities across California. We’re talking about thousands of very vulnerable workers who are effectively doing the same jobs in many cases, full time, in many cases for years on end,” he said.
“A first-class university does not have second-class workers. It is certainly high time for the University of California to not only talk the talk but to walk the walk.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Nov. 14, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Update [Nov. 15, 5:50 p.m.]: This article has been updated to include information about the full Regents’ vote on Thursday.