Campus and Medical Workers Launch Statewide Protest of Labor Practices

Workers went on strike throughout the day on every UC campus against university administrators in protest of job outsourcing to third-party companies and inadequate salaries. The strike, which occurred on March 20 and was organized by the University Professional and Technical Employees and Communications Workers for America, was intended to get the UC system back to the bargaining table to assess their issues and work on a solution.

This strike marks the most recent development in a long history of grievances that unions have had against the UC system. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 had demonstrations in May and October to carry similar demands for wage increases and an end to subcontracting; thus, AFSCME 3299 protested with UPTE-CWA to show their solidarity.

“What we’re asking is for [the UC system] to come back to the bargaining table so that we stop outsourcing and all the University of California jobs stay with Californians,” Business Technology Support Analyst bargainer for UPTE-CWA David Carlos said to the UCSD Guardian. “We’re asking for at least a living wage because there are people out here not able to live in the community they serve, and we don’t think that’s right.”

The first prerogative of the strike is to call upon UC administrators to end the use of contract workers, who do not have benefits and long-term guarantees for work and are therefore cheaper hires. UPTE has been trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with UC’s bargaining team for some resolution on the matter, because, according to Carlos, hiring many contract workers consequently threatens the job security of career workers.

“We have raised this issue with each UC for the longest period of time and they’re not doing anything about it,” Executive Board Member of AFSCME 3299 Ruth Zolayvar said. “All of this goes down to outsourcing our jobs. If they keep outsourcing our jobs and training new people, what quality of care do we give to our patients? What quality of service worker care can we give to our students?”

Because the continuation of outsourcing via contract workers, which Zolayvar argues leads to a degradation of care for patients and students alike,  union leaders from both UPTE and AFSCME want to go back to bargain with UC administrators.

The second goal of UPTE is to discuss guaranteed pay raises for professional and technical employees, as Carlos contends that the increasing cost of living in San Diego adversely affects UC workers who do not earn enough money to live in the area. To afford to live in San Diego County, the Economic Policy Institute projects that a family with two adults and two children needs to earn an average of slightly above $97,000.

“At each bargaining session, we brought proposals. The university has not moved over a couple of years on their position. For us, that’s bad faith bargaining,” Carlos said. “We still want a contract. They’re going to impose upon us their last best final offer which is nowhere near what we need in order for us to survive here in San Diego or California.”

During the last round of negotiations in February, the UC bargaining team offered three-percent pay-increases twice this year and a continued three-percent raise annually for each following year until 2023. They also proposed a one-time payment of $1,250 for eligible employees, additional health benefits, and new retirement plans for incoming employees.

As per the UPTE’s priorities list in their bargaining update, the union is asking for an end to job subcontracting, 5.5 percent raises per year for workers, freezing healthcare premiums and co-pay costs, protection of current pensions, increases for under-market titles, and limits on parking cost increases.

“UPTE and AFSCME’s rallying cry is ‘fairness,’ and yet they want raises that are nearly twice or triple that of other UC employees,” UCOP Media Relations Claire Doan said via email to the UCSD Guardian. “They claim they’re losing jobs and getting displaced, yet for the past five years, they’ve enjoyed substantial growth in membership and earnings. Agreeing to UPTE and AFSCME’s unreasonable demands would cost UC additional hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the contracts and be unfair to other UC employees.”

As reported by the California State Auditor, UCOP has undisclosed restricted and discretionary reserves that are upwards of $175 million as of the 2015-2016 fiscal year. The auditor could neither designate how these funds were used in UC initiatives, their costs, nor how they continue to benefit the university. The lack of disclosure, cites Carlos, begs the question of why UCOP is unable to allocate some of that money towards pay raises.  

“The UC [system] has had a history of giving five-figure bonuses to high level and highly paid executives, but they claim that they cannot give front line workers enough money to cover the cost of living,” Carlos said. “Ultimately, California is one of the costliest states to live in and what we are asking is to be able to live in the communities we serve.”

UPTE’s hope for the large public protests, beyond demanding labor reforms, is for advocacy. UPTE wants to raise awareness for their cause and appeal to the student population for greater support from the UCSD community. As such, organizations like United Students on Sweatshops have shown their approval of the union’s cause.

“The school relies on student tuition and whatever money that we are contributing to the school,” USAS member Nayeli Hernandez said. “It’s easier for the school to contract other workers to replace those striking and not face consequences than to have to go through a wall of student support for these workers. We’re hoping that UPTE is one step closer to having their demands met. It’s a long process, but with student solidarity and AFSCME’s support today, hopefully, we at least brought more attention to the injustices that these workers face on campus.”

With the growing awareness of the negotiations by the student population and persistent and large strikes, UPTE will look to UCOP to hold future bargaining sessions to stop job outsourcing and to provide living wages.


photo by Brian Mi