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?”

Advertisements