The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 held a strike on Wednesday, November 13 across the University of California campuses and medical centers in response to six Unfair Labor Practice charges against the UC Administration. The charges include outsourcing laborers and replacing low-paid UC employees with private contract workers without proper bargaining or consent of the union.
The summary of the six complaints outlines the trend of the UC Administration replacing employees with privately contracted laborers, attempting to evade minimum wage policies, failing to notify the union of contract proposals, neglecting to provide the opportunity to bargain, and failing to provide information requested by AFSCME about new contract proposals via Request for Proposals (RFP’s).
AFSCME, the labor union representing University of California employees, last striked in May 2019 over ULP charges. Only three had been made at that time, also concerning illegal outsourcing, as well as a failure to bargain with the union.
In 2017, a state audit was conducted on the University of California Office of the President’s labor practices. It read: “some university locations avoided competitive bidding by repeatedly amending contracts and through sole‑source exceptions.”
In Summer 2019, the UC Regents disclosed that expenses for outsourcing contracts had increased by 52 percent since 2016.
Ruth Zolayvar, a AFSCME Local 3299 Striker and UC employee who has been working in Patient Pharmacy Tech for 13 years, spoke on the outsourcing of labor at the rally in front of Thornton Hospital in the Jacobs Medical Center.
“A lot of outsourced workers work side by side with our workers, and these workers are cheap labor,” Zolayvar told the UCSD Guardian. “They don’t have any voice, no insurance, no benefits, but they work side-by-side with us, and that’s why we feel it should be equal pay. UC is massively hiring them and paying them for cheap.”
Zolayvar also noted how outsourcing affects patient care.
“We want the best quality of care we can give them, but if they keep contracting workers there for cheap labor…[patients and] students don’t get quality service they need.”
Third-year Eleanor Roosevelt College student Azriel Almera, who is a core member of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and an intern for AFSCME 3299, was also at the strike.
“As students, we have a lot of political power since we pay tuition,” Almera told the UCSD Guardian. “We have more leverage in terms of where we want our money to go. I’ve heard stories, especially in the dorms [about how] it’s always the same person coming to clean. A lot of students too come from far away places so it’s nice to have familiar faces. These workers have families and kids and understand struggles and want what’s best for students and we want what’s best for them.”
David Page, who has been working as a respiratory therapist for 14 years, also attended the strike.
“It’s a public institution,” Page told the UCSD Guardian. “They’re outsourcing jobs on campus and that brings down services that [students] rely on. UC is willing to go behind our backs and unions’ backs and displace people who deserve to be treated fairly.”
The 2017 state audit also revealed that UCOP had failed to follow its own fair contract policy guidelines, and that the university lacked a database of service contracts across all UC campuses.
According to the audit, “low‑wage services contract workers received hourly wages that were $3.86 lower than comparable university employees received.”
An increasing trend towards hiring contract workers was one of the reasons for the formation of Wednesday’s strike.
“Just within the past 3 years, the UC’s outsourcing practices have increased from 7,000 to 10,000 workers which means more and more workers are getting lower pay, no benefits, and no job security,” AFSCME stated on their event page. “This behavior is UNACCEPTABLE and the UC needs to be called out on their bulls–.”
— San Diego Union-Tribune (@sdut) November 13, 2019
Rosa Hernández, a AFSCME member, also spoke at the strike at Thornton Hospital. She gave her speech in Spanish (an English transcription has been provided).
“Queremos que los nuevos empleados tienen beneficios porque tienen familias. Queremos que la gente tienen un trabajo a 40 horas. UC les falta de respeto por las familias … Eso es un derecho que tener un seguro para darle un mejor futuro a nuestros hijos.”
We want new employees to receive benefits because they have families. We want them to work 40 hours [a week]. UC lacks respect for families … It is a right to have security in order to provide a better future for our children.”
A statement by AFSCME in their Facebook event page for the strike claims that this outsourcing has disproportionately displaced minority workers. It states, “[Service workers and patient care workers] are the LOWEST PAID out of all jobs at the UC and not coincidentally, are 80% BLACK AND BROWN workers and mainly women of color!!”
In October 2018, AFSCME Local 3299 released a research study that noted, “Black workers leave their jobs involuntarily, for reasons such as layoffs or dismissals, at a high rate—nearly double that of white men, and more than double the rate for Asian/Pacific Islander (API) women.”
While an investigation into the six charges is still ongoing, California’s Public Relations Employment Board claims that they have found substantial evidence that supports one of the Complaints.
As of the time of writing this article, AFSCME Local 3299 has not announced the duration of the strike.
Photo by Nithish Narasimman. Video by Madeline León.