The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the largest employee union representing workers in the University of California system, organized protests across all 10 UC campuses and some medical centers on May 16. This was the fifth strike in a year against the university’s labor practices.
The most immediate reason for the strikes is the recent filing of three more Unfair Labor Practice charges against the UC Board of Regents, which include allegations of outsourcing and a failure to bargain with the union. One of the three most recent complaints alleges that the UC system refused to bargain over a proposed decision to contract work away from major bargaining unit workers.
According to the filings, by refusing and failing to meet with the union, the UC System broke California State Government Code Section 3571. These complaints are currently being investigated by California’s Public Employee Relations Board, a quasi-judicial agency that mediates the implementation of labor codes.
“PERB should compel the university to cease and desist from proceeding with a plan to contract out bargaining unit work, restore the status quo — and if the university proceeds over the union’s objection — to make whole the affected employees and bargaining units by restoring the value of all work lost as a result of the university’s unlawful conduct,” one of the complaints read.
At UC San Diego union members marched in front of Geisel Library while rallies were held outside the medical centers in East Campus and Hillcrest. In addition to AFSCME and University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119 union members, members and representatives from the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council as well as the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council rallied in solidarity.
“It’s been over two years of bargaining, and what they bring to the table is 2-percent raises that don’t even keep up with the increased costs of food, gas, or rent and utilities,” Keith Maddox of the Labor Council said as he addressed the crowd. “On top of that, they want to outsource your jobs. Hundreds of millions of dollars of outsourcing is what they’re proposing. One in six jobs [are] already being outsourced. If it isn’t your job, it will be tomorrow.”
UC spokesperson Claire Doan contests that the UC administration has made attempts to bargain and that it is the union that refuses to come to the table.
“Despite more than 30 days of bargaining sessions and multiple competitive proposals put forth by UC over the past two years,” Doan wrote in an email statement. “AFSCME leaders have continually prevented members from voting — and deciding for themselves — whether they believe the university’s offer is fair.”
Maddox offered an alternative view of the situation, asking Thursday’s crowd, “What good is coming to the table if they’re just going to take your jobs?”
Doan also suggested that the continued strike activity is a leverage tactic.
“Five disruptive strikes since last May — including three in the past several months — come at a cost to patients, students, and UC communities while doing nothing to advance negotiations,” Doan wrote in a university statement. “The way to a deal is at the bargaining table, not on the picket lines.”
Margret Sheridan of UPTE told the crowd that persistent striking is a good thing.
“[The UC system] wants us to get tired,” Sheridan said at Thursday’s rally. “They are trying to wait it out, to see how long it takes for you to tire out.”
Another of the ULP complaints filed last week alleges that the university did not notify the unions about plans to contract with San Diego-based Aya Healthcare to provide nonunion labor of an annual cost of $150 million.
Michael Avant, the executive vice president of AFSCME Local 3299, put this outsourcing plan into perspective.
“Currently we have 7,000 workers who are outsourced right now,” Avant said on Thursday. “With the current proposals that the UC is offering, they would add another 1,700 jobs to be contracted out yearly, adding another $150 million to the already $450 million worth of labor they’re outsourcing.”
Also in attendance was the current mayoral candidate and City Councilmember Barbara Bry, who briefly expressed her support for the union’s struggle.
“I want you to know I stand with you to negotiate fair jobs,” Bry said. “I want you to be able to support your families and continue to live in San Diego.”
At the San Francisco demonstration, 12 strikers were arrested after disrupting the UC Regents meeting. The UC bargaining team and the union are slated to meet again this coming week.
Photo by Tyler Faurot.