UC service workers strike for safe staffing levels and respect

AFSCME Local 3299 members at nine University of California campuses and five hospitals on November 20 held a one-day unfair labor practices strike to protest UC’s intimidation of workers and UC’s lack of concern for the safety of its patients, students, and workers.

“Yesterday was an historic moment of solidarity for all who share in the moral obligation to make UC facilities safer places to live, learn, heal and thrive,” said Kathryn Lybarger, Local 3299’s president on the day after the strike. “From Berkeley to San Diego, it was clear that Californians understand the importance of addressing the unlawful harassment of those who have challenged UC’s neglect on issues of safety for workers, patients and students.”

The strike partially shut down UC campuses and interrupted non-emergency services at UC hospitals. UC graduate teaching assistants who belong to UAW Local 2865 staged a sympathy strike in support of Local 3299. UC members of  UPTE-CWA 9119, AFT-UC, and the California Nurses Association participated in support rallies for the strikers.

UC tried to prevent some Local 3299 members from participating in the strike, but a judge ruled against UC’s request for an injunction.

“Our members have both the legal right and moral responsibility to stand up for the safety of the students and patients we serve,” said Lybarger. “By attempting to silence workers, UC hasn’t just repeatedly broken the law–it has willfully endangered all who come to UC to learn, to heal, and to build a better life for their families.”

Local 3299 members, who provide an array of services to UC patients and students, have been bargaining with UC for 18 months. One of their priorities has been safe staffing levels to reduce accidents and other safety problems on campuses and at the hospitals.

“We have one person doing three jobs,” said Andrea Whaley, a UC Davis hospital operating room assistant to the Sacramento Bee. “That’s not safe for patients. Everybody here appreciates their job. It’s not about that. It’s about patient safety and worker safety.”

UC while giving 3 percent raises to its executives and other high paid staff has sought concessions from its low-paid service workers and ignored the union’s safety concerns.

In May, Local 3299 members held their first unfair labor practices strike.

According to a complaint issued by the California Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), UC tried to intimidate workers from joining the legally sanctioned strike and continued to harass Local 3299 members after the strike concluded.

During the summer UC imposed its contract terms on Local 3299 members at UC hospitals and then in September did the same to Local 3299 members on UC campuses.

After former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano became president of the UC System, she sought to restart negotiations with Local 3299.

But UC continues to ignore its workers’ safe staffing concerns and continues to harass union activists who speak up for safety on the job, which prompted the November 20 walkout.

According to Lybarger, the union has agreed to many of UC’s demands including its demands for higher employee pension and health care contributions, but said Lybarger in an op-ed piece in the Daily Bruin, “We simply won’t compromise on the safety of the people we serve.”

Lybarger also noted that lack of safe staffing levels has caused an increase in the number of on-the-job injuries. “The absence of safe staffing levels is causing one in ten service workers to get hurt on the job, a figure that’s nearly 20 percent higher than it was in 2009,” said Lybarger.

UC has also been negotiating new contracts with its nurses and professional and technical employees.

Just days before the strike began, UC reached a tentative agreement with 12,000 registered nurses who belong to the California Nurses Association. The agreement includes a substantial pay raise and contract language that protects vacation and sick time and maintains retiree health care benefits for current employees, issues for which Local 3299 continues to bargain.

“We congratulate our colleagues in the California Nurses Association on reaching a fair contract agreement with the University of California,” said Lybarger after the tentative agreement was announced. “We would hope that UC will afford other bargaining units—including the service workers and patient care technical workers represented by AFSCME 3299—a similar spirit of dignity and respect.”

Lybarger also noted that “UC has failed to offer AFSCME any substantive proposals on safe staffing, nor any proposals on wages that are commensurate with what it has given to other UC employees.”

“They have been tone deaf at the table about safety and staffing,” said Lybarger to CBS Los Angeles. “This is about money for them. This is about safety for us.”

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