Staff files charges against its own union

    The University Professional and Technical Employees Staff, which represents employees of the University Professional and Technical Employees union, has filed three unfair labor practice charges against UPTE. The union, which represents over 10,000 health care, research and technical employees at the University of California, announced it will lay off its nine- member organizing staff effective in June.

    The charges include claims of retaliation against union officers for participating in a class-action lawsuit against the union, refusing to provide timely and complete information about the union’s financial situation, bargaining in bad faith, and refusing to bargain over UPTE’s changes to UPTE Staff’s wages, hours and working conditions.

    The union issued layoff notices to all nine of its organizing staff, but rehired four under the new job title of Leadership Development Coordinator, which is currently unrepresented. UPTE Staff President Carla Williams, who was placed on paid leave and was not rehired, said the laid-off staff are seeking an injunction with the National Labor Relations Board to stop the layoffs.

    Williams claims that the union’s justifications for the layoffs, which include a call for reorganization, are characteristic of UC moves the union has protested in the past.

    “It’s not at all unusual for an employer to do this, and UPTE, in its dealings with us, is acting like a typical employer,” Williams said. “We think it’s disgraceful that the employer who is doing this is actually a labor union. Most of us, when we think of unions, think of them as protecting employees’ rights, not violating them.”

    Carolan Buckmaster, vice president of UPTE’s San Diego branch, said the reason for the layoffs was due to both financial constraints and a desire for reorganization.

    The new positions, she said, will include one organizer for each campus. Although the organizer will be paid more, the smaller number of staff will help limit costs to the union. The organizers will then work in conjuction with additional local union members.

    “The idea behind it is to build leadership on our union — we don’t want the face of UPTE to be non-UC employees,” said Buckmaster, who is a staff research assistant at UCSD. She added that the current system wasn’t working. “It’s most effective when members talk to nonmembers. We found this very obvious.”

    Williams, however, claims that the reorganization firings were made in retaliation against employees the union “doesn’t like.”

    “UPTE has claimed in the past that the university has used reorganization to get rid of staff they don’t like,” she said. “In UPTE Staff’s opinion, we see UPTE using that same method to get rid of their staff that they don’t like.”

    Not all of the organizing staff were given interviews for the new position. Two that were laid off were participants in a class-action lawsuit against the union disputing wages and hours, she said. Williams claimed that this could intimidate potential participants in the lawsuit and that she herself was fired in retaliation for her participation in protected, concerted activities.

    The union was held in contempt of court in December for issuing layoff notices “for lack of funds,” which was implied to be because of the price of the court case, according to Williams. This went against a judge order that there would be no solicitation of potential members of the class-action case to opt out of the lawsuit.

    On May 29, the union will be judged in court as to whether or not it is in contempt of court for the most recent layoff notices.

    “There are only two [of the organizing staff] who are in the lawsuit, and if it was retaliation, I don’t think we would be laying them all off,” Buckmaster said. “We wouldn’t go to this much trouble to restructure the way we want to do things if it was retaliation to the lawsuit.”

    Williams claims that the new positions are very similar to the old positions, including many of the same responsibilities. UPTE Staff and the union also disagree on whether adequate information on the union’s financial status was provided to the staff upon request.

    Williams and the other laid-off employees were given leave with pay until the official termination of their employment on June 7.

    “Since we gave them two months’ notice of layoffs, we decided they haven’t been working much so we should just let them go,” Buckmaster said. “We decided for everybody’s sake, it would be better if they could focus on getting a new job. That works out for them as well as us.”

    Williams said she does not expect an injunction to go through before June, but said that even afterward, the employees could regain their jobs. Until then, they plan to publicize their situation.

    “We are hoping that not just UPTE members, but also people in the larger labor and UC community, will join with us in holding the union accountable,” she said. “We have to represent our coworkers to the best of our ability.”

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