UC service workers strike to fight inequality

Saying that their fight against rising inequality will continue, 20,000 University of California (UC) workers ended their three-day strike and returned to work on May 10.

The strike was called by the workers’ union AFSCME Local 3299 after university management announced that it was breaking off negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement with the union and unilaterally imposing new terms of employment on 9000 service workers at ten UC campuses and five medical centers across the state.

Under the new terms, UC service workers, the lowest paid of all UC employees will pay more for health care coverage, wait five years longer to retire, not receive a pay raise commiserate with the high cost of living in California, and continue to face the threat of losing their jobs to outsourcing.

The decision to impose its terms on low-wage service workers comes shortly after a report commissioned by Local 3299 found that inequality at UC is prevalent and increasing.

“A taxpayer supported public university system is not the place where we should expect to see exploding wage gaps, blacks disappearing from the workforce, and an opportunity ladder that seems to prize white males above all others, but that is precisely what is happening at UC—and the trends appear to be getting worse, not better,” said Owen Li co-author of the report titled “Pioneering Inequality: Income, Racial and Gender Inequality at the University of California.

Kathy Lybarger, president of Local 3299, said that the union had been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with UC that it hoped would begin to address the growing trend toward inequality identified in the report, but UC abruptly ended the negotiations.

“Instead of joining us in the effort to arrest these trends, UC has insisted on deepening them—leaving workers no option but to strike,” Lybarger said.

Among other things, the report finds that:

  • Between 2005 and 2015, the ratio between average salaries of UC’s top executives and other UC employees increased from 7:1 to 9:1.
  • Starting pay for women and people of color averages as much as 21 percent less than white males and
  • UC’s outsourcing has led to a 37 percent decline in the number of African American workers at UC.

Outsourcing is the biggest driver of inequality at UC, Lybarger said.

An audit conducted by the state last year found that UC’s propensity to outsource more of its work to private companies has hit low-wage career employees the hardest.

Their jobs have been outsourced to private contractors that pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits than UC.

When the impact of its privatization efforts were called to the attention of UC President Janet Napolitano, she instituted policies that required outsourcing companies to pay a minimum wage, but according to a state’s audit, UC has been lax at enforcing its own policy.

While Napolitano has been driving down wages by outsourcing away jobs, she has been much more generous in the way that she treats her immediate staff.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that another state audit found that salaries for employees who directly work for her “are significantly higher than those of comparable state employees.”

These favored employees during the years audited also received an additional $21.6 million worth of perks that included contributions to their supplemental retirement accounts and stays at expensive hotels while travelling on UC business.

While Napolitano’s closest associates were being treated to extra perks, UC’s service workers, who include custodians, grounds keepers, security guards, and other service staff, have had to scramble to keep their livelihoods intact.

Some UC workers like Juan Donto, a groundskeeper at UC Santa Barbara, must work multiple jobs to support their families.

Donto, who works three jobs, said that having to work so much to meet his expenses has made it hard for him to spend any time with his children.

“It’s not right that the UC is known for its upstanding reputation when their workers have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet,” Donto said. “It’s not right that Latinos and African Americans are making at least 20 percent less than their white co-workers. I ask you, why does it take an African American woman six years to make the (starting) salary of a white man?”

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AFSCME and UC reach agreement that averts strike

The union representing 13,000 patient care and technical workers at five University of California Medical Centers called off an unfair labor practices strike scheduled to begin March 24 after the union and UC reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

Members will vote March 26 and 27 on the tentative agreement.

The strike was averted after the two sides held marathon bargaining sessions over the weekend prior to the planned strike.

“This weekend the University returned to the bargaining table in a spirit of good faith, and we were able to not only avert a strike but to reach a tentative agreement that . . . patient care workers have sought for nearly two years,” said Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299, the workers’ union.

Lybarger also said that the tentative agreement “reflects compromises on both sides.”

Bargaining between UC and Local 3299 began 20 months ago.

UC sought a number of concessions, some of which, said the union, put patient safety at risk.

When negotiations and mediation failed to resolve these issues, Local 3299 members in May voted overwhelmingly to conduct an unfair labor practice strike.

Shortly after the strike vote, members conducted the first ever unfair labor practices strike at UC Medical Centers and clinics.

The strike last two days. Local 3299 members planned carefully and took steps to ensure that no patients were put at risk during the strike.

When the strike concluded, UC began harassing and intimidating strike supporters.

In July, UC announced that without further negotiations it would impose its last contract offer.

That announcement led to an act of civil disobedience at a UC Regents meeting in Los Angeles.

Twenty-five Local 3299 members were arrested for blocking traffic outside of the meeting.

UC eventually returned to the bargaining table, but negotiations faltered until members in March voted to conduct another unfair labor practices strike.

The tentative agreement addresses some patient safety issues raised by the union during negotiations.

For example, it limits UC’s ability to contract work out to low-bid, low-wage private contractors.

It also expands the staffing committees to give workers a greater voice in matters involving safe staffing levels, an important factor for ensuring patient safety.

The wage increases in the new contract should go a long way toward helping UC retain highly qualified patient care workers, which in turn will mean better care for patients.

The agreement calls for across the board wage increases of 21 percent over the four-year life of the contract.

Also included in the contract are four 2 percent step increases that will be implemented annually.

The tentative agreement requires workers to increase their pension contribution by 2.5 percent, which had been one of UC’s top priorities during negotiations.

In a statement about the tentative agreement, Lybarger said that she hoped that the new agreement would lead to a new era of cooperation between workers and UC.

In her statement, Lybarger referred to another agreement that Local 3299 and UC reached concerning service workers at UC’s nine academic campuses.

“Moving forward, Local 3299 will continue working with University administrators to enforce and build on the recent agreements we have secured both for service and patient care workers,” said Lybarger. “While we don’t expect to always agree, we hope UC will join us in working to begin a new era of cooperation, rooted in constructive dialogue and finding common solutions to benefit the patients, students and communities we serve.”

UC and union reach one agreement; strike vote to be taken as negotiations over another falter

After more than 20 months of bargaining, AFSCME Local 3299 and the University of California System (UC) reached a tentative agreement that the union leadership called “historic.”

The agreement covers 8,300 service workers at UC’s nine academic campuses.

Local 3299 and UC still have not reached an agreement on a new contract that covers 13,000 patient care and technical workers at UC’s five medical centers.

The union accuses UC of “serial lawbreaking” because of its repeated attempts to undermine collective bargaining at the medical centers and said that medical center workers will vote March 12-13 on whether to authorize an unfair labor practices strike.

“For months, we have been holding off on this (unfair labor practices) ULP strike vote in the hopes that UC’s new president would put an end to this serial lawbreaking,” said Randall Johnson a Local 3299 ULP committee member and patient care worker . “Instead, UC has doubled down, illegally introducing new bargaining demands at the 11th hour that would effectively force UC patients to play a game of Russian Roulette on staffing in order to boost hospital profits. It’s clear that if we don’t stand up to UC’s unlawful conduct now, it will only get worse.”

Last July after more than a year of negotiations, UC unilaterally implemented some terms of its contract proposal at its medical centers. The new terms increased worker health care costs and pensions contributions.

Despite what the union called UC’s bad faith approach to negotiations, Local 3299 continued to bargain.

From the outset of negotiations, Local 3299’s priority has been patient safety and safe staffing levels, but UC has been unresponsive.

To make matters worse, UC recently introduced a new demand that wasn’t previously on the table. UC wants to give hospital administrators unlimited layoff powers in situations that management defines as an emergency.

The union responded that such unlimited powers could worsen patient safety by raising patient to staff ratios.

Heightening union safety concerns is the fact that two UC medical centers, one in Davis and one in Los Angeles, in August were fined $50,000 apiece by the California Department of Public Health for failing to ensure the health and safety of patients.

“These penalties highlight the concerns that our membership has been raising for years–that mismanagement and chronic understaffing has made UC Hospitals increasingly dangerous places for the communities they serve,” said Kathy Lybarger, Local 3299 president  in a statement issued after the fines were announced. “The fact is that instead of investing in basic safeguards for patients, UC Hospital executives are cutting corners on care in order line their own pockets. That’s not how you build a world class health delivery system—it’s how you degrade one.”

Lybarger said that the March strike vote is intended to send a message to UC administrators that the union isn’t backing down from its safe staffing demand. She called UC’s new demand another example of UC’s bad faith approach to bargaining.

She added that UC’s bad faith bargaining wasn’t just a threat to union members “but to the colleagues, patients, and students, who depend of (Local 3299 members) every day” as well.

UC service workers at its academic campus had been prepared to go on strike themselves. They had recently voted overwhelming for a five-day unfair labor practices strike that was to begin March 3.

The strike however was called off at the last minute when UC and Local 3299 reached an agreement that raises pay by 13.5 percent over the four years of the contract, provides more protections against contracting out work, freezes health care premiums for active and retired employees, and eliminates UC’s paid time off scheme that reduces workers’ paid vacation and sick leave by combining the two.

In September, UC unilaterally implemented some terms of its contract proposal. For example, it increased employee and retiree health care costs. The new agreement reduces some of these costs.

But the union did agree to some concessions to reach a final agreement, most notably it agreed to increase worker pension contributions by 1.5 percent.

When Lybarger announced the tentative agreement she recognized the fact that the union had agreed to some concessions including higher pension contributions, but noted that the agreement will “pull thousands of its full-time (UC) employees out of poverty and begin to rectify staffing practices that needlessly put our members and the people they serve at risk.”

“(The new agreement) honors the contributions that career service workers make to this institution, as well as UC’s responsibility to build ladders to the middle class,” said Lybarger.” Our members are deeply grateful to the thousands of students, faculty, colleagues, elected officials, and everyday taxpayers who have stood with us, and stood for the principles of fairness and dignity that bind every member of the UC community.”

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.”