IT workers take a stand against “outrageous outsourcing”

Testifying before the University of California Board of Regents, information technology workers called on the board to stop outsourcing of their work.

The University of California system in September awarded a $50 million contract to HCL, an IT staffing company in India, to take over the management of IT infrastructure and networking at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

As a result, 78 career and contract IT workers at UCSF will lose their jobs in February.

At the November regents meeting, IT workers like Hank Nguyen told the regents and UC President Janet Napolitano how the board’s decision will affect workers and their families.

“The day I received a bill for my daughter’s education at UC is the same day I received a layoff notice from UC,” said Nguyen. “My daughter asked me, ‘Dad, should I continue my engineering education?’ I didn’t know how to respond to my daughter or any other kids who are pursuing STEM degrees.”

Jelger Kalmijn, president of the laid off workers union, University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119, also testified. He called the board’s outsourcing decision “outrageous.”

If companies and public institutions continue to outsource our jobs, “what future do we have left,” said Kalmijn. “People in the US are sick and tired of losing our decent paying jobs. UC should not be taking leadership on sending those jobs that are our future out of here.”

Kalmijn said that UC shouldn’t be participating in “a race-to-the-bottom, where working people are fighting each other all across the world to see who can be exploited the most.”

“I urge you to take leadership and stop this outrageous outsourcing,” said Kalmijn. “It’s going to save you a couple of pennies for massive political cost, for massive financial costs in the long run, and for massive security costs. It makes absolutely no sense.”

UCSF estimates that the outsourcing contract with HCL will save the university $30 million over five years primarily due to lower labor costs.

The workers facing layoffs and their union have received support from elected officials such as US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi wrote a letter to Napolitano urging her to “reconsider” the decision to outsource jobs at UCSF.

Pelosi noted that H-IB visas will be issued to workers hired by HCL to replace the UCSF workers, so that they can be trained for their new jobs by those being laid off.

Pelosi goes on to say that such a use of H-1B visa program contradicts the intended purpose of the law.

“The H-1B program was designed to enhance American competitiveness by supplementing the American workforce with highly skilled foreign nationals in the event of critical shortages in the US labor market,” wrote Pelosi. “Congress did not design the program to replace–to outsource–American jobs, or lower domestic wages.

US Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa also wrote Napolitano criticizing the decision to “replace American workers with lower-cost foreign workers abroad.”

The contract with HCL could have implications beyond its immediate impact on the 78 IT workers at UCSF.

UC’s outsourcing contract with HCL allows HCL to be the IT outsourcing contractor for ten campuses in the university system.

The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) has been identified as one of the campuses where HCL workers could replace UCSD workers.

Computerworld reports if that happens, there could be a potential conflict of interest.

According to Computerworld, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla is a member of the HCL board of directors.

In concluding his remarks, Kalmijn said that UC’s decision to abuse the H-1B visa program to outsource jobs puts it in league with private corporations that have attempted to do the same thing.

“UC follows in the footsteps of many private companies that have been abusing the H-1B visa program, including Southern California Edison, Abbott Laboratories, Eversource Energy, Walt Disney World, Toys “R” Us and New York Life,” said Kalmijn. “But as a public institution, the University of California’s action is even more of a slap in the face to the tech workers, their families and the UC community. We will continue to fight back against this shameful attack on good, family-supporting jobs.”

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UC divests its private prison stocks and bonds

The University of California System (UC) has decided to sell its $25 million worth of holdings in private prison corporations.

UC’s decision was announced on December 18. It came after a number of meetings with representatives of the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) and public protests such as the one that took place in November at the University of California at Davis campus.

During the meetings, ABC members presented research showing the inconsistencies between UC’s goals of expanding education opportunities and its funding of private prison companies that according to ABC “exist to build centers of white supremacist dehumanization, turning Black, brown, and immigrant bodies into a profit under the guise of rehabilitation.”

The two largest private prison corporations, the Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) reported annual revenue of $3.3 billion. They generate this revenue by keeping their prison beds full of inmates.

The US with more than 2 million people in prison has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

This high incarceration rate, which has been a boon to the private prison industry, is largely due to state and federal criminal justice policies that have resulted in the imprisonment of young Blacks and Latinos for minor criminal offenses.

Private prison companies often promote and lobby for these policies.

“The goals of the private prison industry, which are to profit from the incarceration, labor, and rehabilitative treatment of Black and immigrant lives, and the UC’s mission, which is to teaching, research, and public service, are fundamentally incompatible,” writes ABC field organizer Kamilah Moore.

 

After being informed of UC’s divestment decision, ABC applauded the action.

“This victory is historic and momentous,” said Yoel Haile ABC’s political director. “Divesting $25 million is a good step towards shutting down private prisons by starving them of capital. This is a clear example of Black Power and what we can achieve when we work in unity. This victory belongs to the masses of our people languishing behind America’s mass incarceration regime.”

UC’s decision to divest was based on a financial rather than moral judgement.

UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher told ABC staff that when UC makes investment decisions, it “looks at things from a sustainable investment framework” and that an investment in a private prison system was no longer seen as financially sustainable.

UC becomes the first public university in the US to divest its private prison holdings. Columbia University decided in June to sell its $10 million private industry investment after a series of public protests.

While praising UC’s decision, ABC said that it will continue to pressure UC to get rid of all investments that help sustain the private prison industry.

ABC wants UC to reconsider its $425 million investment in Well Fargo.

“Wells Fargo Bank has never been the ally of Black, working class, and migrant people or the intersection thereof,” writes ABC in a statement about UC’s divestment decision.

In addition to discriminating against Black and Latino neighborhoods, says the statement, Wells Fargo is major financier of the private prison industry. It has issued CCA a $900 million line of credit and serves as a trustee for $300 million in bond debt owed by the Geo Group.

Wells Fargo also owns more than one million shares of CCA and Geo Group stock.

By providing financing and investing directly in CCA and Geo Group, Wells Fargo is “effectively financing the dehumanization of Black and migrant people,” says the ABC statement.

ABC is calling on Wells Fargo to end its financial support for CCA and the Geo Group. If the bank refuses to do so, then UC should immediately divest itself of its Wells Fargo holdings.

Any contribution to the for-profit private prison industry is a direct and unethical approval in further  dehumanizing Black, brown, and immigrant people for capitalistic gains, writes Haile.

“It is an ethical embarrassment and a clear disregard for Black and immigrant lives for the UC to be investing tens and hundreds millions of dollars in private prisons and their financiers” he continues. “In the age of mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter, UC should be leading the fight for social justice and ethical investing as opposed to bankrolling the inhuman mass incarceration regime that has gripped America.”

Fight for $15 gains momentum at UC; union vows to continue the fight until everyone is covered

The fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour gained momentum in California after the University of California System (UC) on July 21 announced that it will increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The raise, which affects 3,200 UC workers, will be phased in over three years. The UC minimum wage increases to $13 an hour on October 1, then to $14 an hour 12 months later in 2016, and finally to $15 an hour on October 1, 2017.

“This is the right thing to do — for our workers and their families, for our mission and values, and to enhance UC’s leadership role by becoming the first public university in the United States to voluntarily establish a minimum wage of 15 dollars,” said UC President Janet Napolitano.

But thousands of workers providing services on UC campuses and health centers won’t be receiving the raise because they work for outsourcing contractors.

Napolitano said that UC would step up its monitoring and compliance efforts of its contractors in an attempt to get contractors to pay decent wages.

But Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299, which represents 22,000 UC workers, said that Napolitano’s proposal doesn’t go far enough.

“We are encouraged to hear that (President Napolitano) recognizes that there is a problem,” said Lybarger. “That said, any proposal that does not guarantee equal pay for UC subcontractors is not good enough.”

 

According to Lybarger, UC like other comparable public institutions is relying more and more on private companies to provide essential services such building maintenance, food service, and custodial service.

As a result, what were once stable jobs that provided decent benefits have been turned into low-wage, dead-end jobs.

Since 2009, said Lybarger, UC has added 9,000 students and 12 new facilities, but the number of full-time UC employees who provide services to these students and maintain these facilities has declined.

To fill this need, UC has turned to private companies that in many cases make their profits by paying poverty wages with few if any benefits.

Many of these jobs are described as temporary positions when in fact they are permanent.

“These workers are not temporary,” said Lybarger. “Many have worked at UC for years, some for as little as half of what their UC employed peers make and for few benefits.”

Most of these workers, who provide vital services but are paid poverty wages, are immigrants or people of color, said Lybarger

Lybarger said that AFSCME has a record of fighting discrimination at UC and would continue to do so. That fight includes extending the minimum wage increase to all UC workers whether they work directly for UC or for a private contractor.

“UC has to turn the page by supporting equal pay for contract workers and by ending this permanent outsourcing of staffing needs to poverty wage employers,” said Lybarger. “Until (it) does, we will not stop fighting.”

Lybarger said that a bill pending in the state legislature would go a long way toward ending the abuse of contract workers on UC campuses.

SB 376 would  raise wages and benefits for UC contract workers to the same level as UC workers in comparable positions.

It passed the Senate and has been reviewed favorably by two committees of the General Assembly.

But its passage is in question because it is opposed by UC and by Gov. Jerry Brown.

In May, AFSCME confronted President Napolitano about her opposition to SB 376.

At a UC Regent’s dinner in a posh downtown San Francisco dining facility, members picketed outside.

Some were able to enter the building where the dinner was being held.

They delivered 7000 letters calling on President Napolitano to support SB 376 and handed her a package of Ramen noodles, “all that contracted out workers can afford to eat on UC’s poverty wages,” said an AFSCME flyer.

UC has complained that paying a living wage to contract workers would be too expensive.

But the question of expense doesn’t seem to concern UC when it comes to executive salaries.

The Sacramento Bee reports that UC paid former UC President Mark Yodof $546,000 in 2014, the year after he resigned from his position.

The Bee also reports that 445 UC executives and others hold high-paying positions were paid $500,000 or more in 2014.

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.”