This Tuesday, Oct. 23 marked the first of a three-day strike where Patient Technical Care workers represented by AFSCME Local 3299, the largest union representing UC workers, picked up their signs and megaphones and rallied outside of the Jacob’s Medical Center. Driven by the UC system’s practice of outsourcing jobs to private companies, flattening wages, hiking healthcare premiums, and raising the retirement age — 15,000 Patient Care Technical workers alongside over 9,000 AFSCME-represented service workers and some 15,000 UPTE-CWA technical workers all stood in solidarity statewide.
Chanting slogans like “Hey hey! Ho-ho! UC greed has got to go!” with AFSCME members wearing green, and UPTE CWA 9119 AFL CIO— a union representing university healthcare professional and technical employees — with members in blue, participants in the protest voiced concern over the future of their jobs working for the UC.
Dan Russell, Executive Vice Chancellor of UPTE spoke before the protestors on the impacts on quality of service provision: “If [the]UC beats AFSCME, their care will be affected and it’s going to hurt us, all of California, until all workers get contracts they deserve.”
Margaret Sheridan, who is a part of the Executive Board of UPTE noted the importance of forming a unified front.
“When AFSCME patient care and technical and social workers and essential personnel are out together, they realize they need all of us to give excellent patient care,” Sheridan said.
The protests are the second segment of unresolved bargaining deals between the UC system and AFSCME Union representatives. The first round of strikes occurred earlier this May, where 53,000 union workers came out in defense against rising inequality and unfair labor practices.
“Weren’t we just here?” Shaun McCollum, AFSCME Lead organizer asked the crowd.
“According to the UC, over 7k contractors are doing our work, AFSCME work,” McCollum stated. “That’s 27 percent of the people we represent being contracted out. Most of these aren’t short term or temps. They work for a number of years. ”
McCollum pointed out that contractors make $8.50 less per hour than UC workers, as a state audit confirmed
Ruth Zelayvor— a Pharmacy Technician who is going on 12 years working for the University — spoke on behalf of the core values propelling the movement.
“The UC’s excellence is in their growth. UC has to respect the work we do, our family, and our future,” Zelayvor said. “[UC San Diego] teaches their students about social justice inside the classroom, but it has to go outside the classroom and be put it into practice.”
Claire Doan — Director of Media Relations for the University of California Office of the President — and UC spokesperson relayed the University’s stance on the Union leaders decision to protest to the Guardian.
“As a negotiating tactic, this AFSCME-led strike is no more effective now than it was in May,” Doan stated. “(…) For a year AFSCME leaders have refused to budge on their unreasonable demand of a 36 percent raise over four years for patient-care workers. That is nearly triple what other university employees have received and clearly unrealistic for a taxpayer-funded institution like UC.”
Doan reported how AFSCME patient care and service workers are “already compensated at or above market rates, along with affordable health insurance and generous retirement benefits.” She argued that AFSCME leaders’ “combative approach” in refusing to reach consensus with the University has cost service workers their pay increases, especially considering the union’s increased membership fees in January — with monthly caps from $78 to $120 — one of the highest across active unions.
“We’ve bargained in good faith for over a year to address outsourcing at UC because it creates unequal and insecure circumstances that workers must struggle with every day,” announced AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger in a press release on the day of the first strike. “Instead of joining us in an effort to arrest these alarming trends, UC has insisted on deepening them—leaving workers no option but to strike.”
The outcome of the protests and ongoing meetings between the UC and AFSCME leaders remains to be seen in the following days. The Guardian will continue to publish updates.
photo by Tyler Faurot