Strike Negotiations are Needed to Prevent Financial Difficulties

Strike Negotiations are Needed to Prevent Financial Difficulties

For the second time this year, UC health and maintenance workers are going on strike after months of unsuccessful negotiations with UC administrators. The 24-hour strike to improve working conditions will be held on Nov. 20, including a walkout and picketing at UC campuses and medical centers. Last May’s two-day walkout cost the UC health system an estimated $20 million, an amount we cannot spare again. This failure to agree has resulted in 96 percent of the union’s approximately 13,000 members voting to execute their last resort plan. Although discussions have been less than amicable on both sides, a decision needs to be made before students and patients of the medical centers take on the burden of the dispute and are hurt further.

Workers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 have spent the last year negotiating pension terms with the UC system. A UC administration mandated pension contribution increase of 5 percent to 6.5 percent is leaving workers with a smaller take-home paycheck. The union has filed an official complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board claiming that the UC system is using illegal tactics, but PERB has not made a ruling on the matter. According to union president Kathryn Lybarger, the prevailing belief among union members is that after a year of respectful and thoughtful negotiations, the UC system has resorted to “bullying” workers.

Like any large bureaucratic institution, the top-down hierarchy of the UC system often pushes those that are already at the bottom to the wayside whether they be students or low-wage workers. Although the typically apathetic student body may roll their eyes at another fight for funds, any disregard for the “invisible worker” may ultimately affect them, as any effort to compensate for funding gaps may result in higher premium costs for students enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan. It is not AFSCME that has predicted such an issue, but the UC system itself. According to a university statement, the UC system will not allow more fees to fall on students; although surprising, this is appreciated.

This strike comes at a politically advantageous time for the workers. With new UC President Janet Napolitano having only been in office for six weeks, workers are making their demands to a vulnerable audience. Napolitano knows that she must swiftly react well to all requests as she is under the scrutiny of many skeptical constituents.

AFSCME does not necessarily want such costs being pushed onto students, but an alternative funding source has not been clearly defined. An increase in SHIP premium costs is unacceptable given the already sorry financial state of the program. Following the bureaucratic suit of most UC issues, finances are stealing the spotlight of this contentious debate but it’s the patients who will ultimately suffer.

In a game of “he said/she said” (read: white collar/blue collar), it’s difficult to determine who is in the right. We may not know who is right, but we know what is right. UC health and maintenance workers need appropriate retirement packages, and the financial turmoil should not fall on students. Someone needs to take action prior to the costly Nov. 20 strike that will be hurt the university greatly. And of course, it is imperative that all parties involved keep patient care in sight. For a university that teaches such liberal concepts, it is hard to watch the university system’s practice contradict what it preaches.

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