By Sheri Williams
For the third time in less than a year, workers at the University of California hit the picket lines to protest unfair working conditions and a failure of the university system to bargain fairly with employees.
UPTE-CWA, which represents 14,000 healthcare, research and technical workers at the university’s 10 campuses and five hospitals, staged a 24-hour strike last month after hitting an impasse in bargaining. AFSCME 3299 and multiple other unions joined in solidarity. Both unions have been negotiating for a new contract for more than two years.
Hundreds of union members in Sacramento joined the picket lines in front of UC Davis Medical Center and at the campus in Davis, carrying signs and chanting, “shut it down.”
“UC needs to respect and value their frontline workers who make our hospitals and universities great,” said Sacramento Central Labor Council executive director Fabrizio Sasso, standing on the picket line. “The richest university system in the richest state in the nation should be ashamed of itself for not coming to the table and bargaining with our union sisters and brothers. We have an obligation to stand together to make our voices heard, a union of unions, standing in solidarity.”
UPTE-CWA spokesperson Dan Russell told media that UC leaders have not listened to employees concerns about wages and the outsourcing of jobs, preventing negotiations from moving forward. The UC system has been unfairly outsourcing many jobs to contractors.
“UC is insisting on continuing to outsource our jobs, to cut benefits, while they’re giving their high-level executives five-figure raises every year, six-figure bonuses,” Russell told media.
“The pay and cuts that UC administrators are proposing to make will mean that people will have to leave, and we can’t keep good people around, and we can’t hire more. The quality of everything we produce will go down,” said Kelsey Zorn, a clinical research coordinator in San Francisco. “The frontline workers are the reason that the institution has the reputation that it has, and we want to make the reality of the situation real to the people who are making these decisions.”
The University of California also faced a strike by nurses in May. Nurses ratified a new contract in September that gave them a fair wage increase of 15 percent over five years. AFSCME 3299 went on strike in October, supported by UPTE-CWA.
AFSCME 3299, which has 24,000 members, represents medical workers such as respiratory therapists and phlebotomists, along with custodians, maintenance staff, food service workers and gardeners.
Thousands of union workers across the state took part in the actions. In Los Angeles, picketers were joined by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Sanders said the University of California was acting like a “corporate-type employer.” Sanders said workers across the United States are facing similar battles as labor seeks to protect working families.
“What we are seeing all across this country is a war being waged against working people in America,” Sanders said.