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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Union cancels strike on one front, calls for strike vote on other

On March 4, AFSCME 3229, the union that represents University of California (UC) service workers and also other service and patient care workers at the different UC medical centers, announced that the 12,000 AFSCME 3229 patient care workers plan to hold an unfair labor practice strike vote on March 12 to 13.

UC service workers provide groundskeeping, facilities maintenance, custodial and food services at UC campuses, medical centers and research labs. According to AFSCME’s website, 99 percent of AFSCME workers are currently income eligible for some form of public assistance.

After almost two years of intense negotiations between AFSCME 3229 service workers and the UC, a tentative agreement was announced on Feb. 27, prompting AFSCME to call off the five-day strike scheduled for the week of March 3.

The tentative contract for UC service workers includes a 13.5 percent across-the-board wage increase over the next four years, healthcare benefits for employees and retirees and safe staffing protections, including limits on the UC’s ability to hire outside contractors.

According to AFSCME spokesman Todd Stenhouse, the proposed strike forced the UC’s hand.

“The cost of a strike was far greater than the cost of a settlement for UC,” Stenhouse said. “The ball was always in their court and it was a question of whether they were going to honor their responsibility as a world-class institution. On [Feb. 26], they finally chose to come to the table in a spirit of compromise.”

Eight thousand three hundred service workers were set to strike from March 3 to 7, along with 13,000 patient care technical workers also represented by AFSCME 3229 who voted in favor of a sympathy strike. UC anticipated the cost of the strike at approximately $10 million.

“It is good to have this bargaining wrapped up with a deal on its way to our valued service employees,” said Dwaine B. Duckett, UC vice president of human resources. “Ultimately both sides chose compromise over conflict.”

According to AFSCME workers, by allowing service workers and contractors to enter public service eligibility, the UC was transferring its labor costs onto California taxpayers.

“We have finally reached a historic agreement with UC that will pull thousands of its full-time employees out of poverty and begin to rectify staffing practices that needlessly put our members and the people they serve at risk,” said Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME 3299 president, in a press release. “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.”

AFSCME received an outpouring of support from students, elected officials, faculty and UC regents during the bargaining process.

“After years of giving huge salaries to executives, it is time for the UC to show its lowest paid workers that they are a valued part of the UC family,” tweeted UC Regent and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

A number of California state representatives, the California Labor Federation and the Council of UC Faculty Associations also voiced solidarity with the service workers of AFSCME.

“UC workers are an integral part of our university, from student life to the health of the patients at UC medical centers,” said Kareem Aref, president of the University of California Student Association, in a press release. “The members of AFSCME 3299 deserve as much care and support as they give to the UC system, and UC students will stand with its workers for the respect, safety, and fair wages that all UC workers deserve.”

While the service workers have seen this long bargaining process to its end, AFSCME 3229’s patient care unit has yet to reach a compromise with UC after over 22 months of bargaining.

“I hope that this spirit of compromise will continue in the ongoing negotiations with the patient care unit,” Stenhouse said.

A ratification vote on the new contract will be held for AFSCME 3229 service workers on March 5 to 7.

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