The vice president of UC Davis’ UPTE-CWA urges UC to come back to the bargaining table
University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) are striking. 10,000 University of California Research and Technical professionals will be on strike across the state on Wednesday, March 20. They will be joined by 5,000 UPTE Healthcare professionals and 27,000 AFSCME Patient Care Technical and Service workers, who will strike in solidarity because we have all been bargaining for contracts with UC administration and are facing similar issues.
Since bargaining began in May 2017, UPTE met with UC 17 times, with meetings always open for affected employees to share their concerns with UC negotiators. UPTE members’ comments focused on how contracting out, erosion of full-time career work and challenges to recruitment and retention are undermining the research, healthcare and educational missions they carry out. These are the issues that are most important to me. I have spent most of my career at UC Davis and am very proud of helping to fulfill the mission of the University of California. That mission includes education, research and public service: all things that I have personally contributed to during the almost 40 years I have been here at UC Davis.
UC negotiators presented UPTE RX/TX employees with a last, best and final offer on Feb. 13, which included wage increases that were less than half of what UC agreed to in September of 2018 with nurses represented by the California Nurses Association. The union has pointed out that nearly 4 out of 5 RX/TX workers leave UC in less than five years, showing that this was due to uncompetitive pay and lower overtime standards than in the private sector. UC negotiators have acknowledged the high rate of turnover, arguing that pension cuts are in fact made with this in mind. UC has admitted that its rejection of UPTE’s proposals was not due to financial hardship. The union continues to point to UC’s executive pay, management growth and privatization plans as evidence that the university regents put the interests of senior executives above those of the university community and the public.
If the pay is below market rates, why do people still choose to work at UC? Many of us love working at UC and are willing to take less money because we believe in the importance of what we do. However, the cuts to pay and benefits in the contract UC has offered will make staying impossible for many of us. Already many of us work two jobs, some drive for Lyft and Uber on the side and others work half time at UC for the healthcare benefits while they have another “real” job. Personally, I supplement my income from UC with teaching for UC Extension, as do other of my research and teaching colleagues.
Other UPTE members have named the lack of raises rewarding longevity as a major reason they are striking. Cuts to benefits, stagnant wages and a lack of rewards for staying on the job are reasons why many of my colleagues see no future working at UC and will be looking for more lucrative employment elsewhere if we cannot win a better contract. This is what underlies the problem of recruitment and retention and why the current contract offer will only make matters worse. UC will no longer get the best and the brightest coming out of UC to stay and work here, like we did when I came here almost 40 years ago. UC no longer will offer the kinds of careers that attract the best employees from around the world to a top tier university. As with UCLA’s involvement in the recent admissions scandal, the brand that UC is selling will continue to erode.
We at UPTE feel that this emphasis on executive compensation and corporate outsourcing over the interests of frontline workers does not uphold the mission of the University of California. It does a disservice to our students and the public by placing private interests over the interests of the people of the state of California whom we have a mission to serve. The employees on the frontlines supporting faculty in research and teaching, providing patient care and serving our students in many capacities have been directly involved in building the reputation for excellence that the University of California enjoys. We all deserve to be treated with dignity. UC administrators have declared that we are at impasse and bargaining is no longer productive. We strike because we do not believe that bargaining in good faith is unproductive. We strike to bring UC back to the bargaining table where our voices can be heard and respected.
UPTE has a rally at noon on Wednesday, March 20 at Russell Boulevard and Howard Way.
Written by: Lucy Joseph
The writer is the vice president of UC Davis’ local UPTE-CWA 9119. She came to UC Davis in 1980 as a graduate student in the Microbiology Graduate Group and is currently a staff research associate in the Agronomy Department and a senior museum scientist in Viticulture and Enology.