The University of California’s largest employment union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 3299, announced their decision to endorse Bernie Sanders for President ahead of California’s 2020 Democratic Primary on Feb. 14. The endorsement comes two weeks before the state’s election day on March 3.
In an interview with the Times of San Diego, AFSCME Local 3299 Executive Vice President Michael Avant explained that the reasoning behind the endorsement was because of the union’s push for collective bargaining rights.
“These are the biggest voting issues for our members,” Avant said. “And while any of the major candidates challenging Trump would be a significant improvement, none have walked the talk as reliably and consistently as Senator Bernie Sanders, and that’s why we are enthusiastically endorsing him for President.”
The endorsement comes as no surprise to many who have been following Sanders’ campaign platform. He has been a long-time advocate for union membership, industry-wide collective bargaining, and has shown support for AFSCME in the past.
Sanders spoke in favor of UC unions during a strike held by AFSCME and University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119 in March 2019.
“The University of California must be a model employer,” Sanders said. “It must be an employer that respects its workers, and it must be an employer that treats its workers with dignity and it must sit down with its unions and negotiate in good faith.”
One of the core platforms pushed by Sanders’ campaign is the “Workplace Democracy Plan.” The main objective of the plan is strengthening the American middle class. The plan calls for doubling union membership and denying federal contracts that pay poverty wages, outsource jobs overseas, or deny good benefits.
“There are many reasons for the growing inequality in our economy, but one of the most significant reasons for the disappearing middle class is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined,” Sanders’ website states.
The issues addressed by Sanders’ platform parallel the issues prioritized by AFSCME. Both emphasize collective bargaining over the terms of employment and increasing wages as a major solution for battling inequality.
AFSCME was recently successful in reaching a tentative contract agreement with the UC system for over 8,000 workers on Jan. 24. The contract will increase wages, prevent future outsourcing of labor to private contractors, and expand upon career advancement opportunities.
AFSCME had been working to reach an agreement for UC service workers since 2017. The contract ended one of the longest-running labor disputes for the university system. Upon ratification of the contract workers will get a 3 percent annual wage increase along with a number of one-time bonuses.
In a press release announcing the tentative contract agreement, AFSCME President Kathryn Lybarger explained how the contract helps create middle class careers across the UC system.
“This tentative agreement takes historic, enforceable steps to strengthen middle class career pathways at UC,” Lybarger said. “This has been a difficult and protracted process, but it has brought important issues to light about the growing problem of income inequality, the fight for what’s left of America’s middle class.”
Sanders’ enduring support for unionization has led to him to receive endorsements by various unions. AFSCME is now the third UC union to endorse Sanders, following California Nurses Association and UPTE-CWA Local 9119.
Photo by Nithish Narasimman for the UCSD Guardian.