Despite preventative efforts by the University of California and the Public Employment Relations Board, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 service workers began a statewide strike Monday.
Approximately 8,500 service workers throughout the UC’s 10 campuses and five medical centers will remain on strike through Friday.
“We’re having a really good turnout,” said Gail Price, union treasurer and UC Davis employee, from the picket line in Davis on Tuesday. “Close to 400 or 450 people are here today.”
The strike is in response to what the union feels is UC’s unwillingness to raise benefits and minimum wages to a level workers consider suitable in light of increasing costs of living.
“Our workers are living in poverty,” Price said. “All we’re asking for is a living wage.”
AFSCME has been bargaining with UC for higher wages for patient care employees since August 2007, and for service employees since October 2007.
“UC’s poverty wages are as low as $10 per hour,” said William Schlitz, AFSCME political and communications director in a press release. “Many are forced to take second jobs or go on public assistance just to meet their families’ basic needs.”
The union notified UC of the service employees’ intent to strike in a July 10 letter.
In response, UC secured a temporary restraining order from the San Francisco Superior Court with the help of the Public Employment Relations Board on July 11, on the grounds that the union did not give sufficient notice of the strike.
The union announced its intent to continue with the strike as planned – despite the court order – shortly after the ruling.
“It’s a legal strike,” Price said. “We are adhering to the restraining order. They say we didn’t give them legal notice, and we did.”
The union has previously rejected several proposals by UC, the most recent of which promised a minimum wage increase in hourly rates for service employees, and a wage increase of 26 percent over the course of five years for patient care employees. In addition, UC has offered health benefits so that staff making less money – such as those in the service sector – would pay lower monthly premiums.
“Raising the minimum wage too much would be fiscally irresponsible for the university – particularly for the service unit,” said Nicole Savickas, human resources and labor relations coordinator for UC. “We are committed to being equitable.”
In a statement issued on Monday, UC said it regrets being unable to reach a compromise with the striking employees, and emphasized that the strike is indeed a violation of the law.
“We thought we were making good progress, and then the union refused our last proposal,” Savickas said. “The union has been unresponsive.”
“The only way we’re going to reach agreement is through negotiation,” she said.
RITA SIMERLY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.