Photo Credits: JUSTIN HAN / AGGIE. AFSCME protestors demonstrate on Toomey Field by Russell Blvd. on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.
Latest protest marks sixth one over past year and a half
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, the UC’s largest employee union, went on strike on Nov. 13 for the sixth time in the last 18 months. Members and supporters protested the alleged outsourcing of jobs and unfair labor practices by the UC. This strike comes after six lawsuits were recently filed against the UC system.
Union members and supporters formed picket lines at all 10 UC campuses as well as five UC medical centers. Despite this being the sixth strike organized in the last year and a half, rhetoric on both sides of the negotiation table has remained largely unchanged. With AFSCME and UC representatives presenting contradictory arguments, it is unclear how negotiations will proceed.
Matthew Mussar, a UC Davis Medical Center employee on strike, spoke about concerns highlighted by union representatives.
“We won’t stand to have our jobs contracted out and lose the things we’ve fought so hard for in the past,” Mussar said. “We just want to provide the best patient care we can.”
At the same time, UC representatives have conveyed entirely opposing viewpoints. Andrew Gordon, the associate director of media relations for the UC Office of the President, disputed claims brought up by union members like Mussar.
“The University’s agreements with AFSCME already protect employees from displacement due to contracting,” Gordon said via email. “Furthermore, no employee can be terminated as a result of a sub-contracting decision.”
Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME 3299, alleged in an article in The Sacramento Bee that there has been an 84% increase in UC spending on outsourced jobs since 2016. UC representatives, however, claim figures referenced are incomparable. Asked about the possibility of gaining access to comparable statistics, Gordon instead repeated the same statement available to the press, describing the latest offer presented by the UC to the union which was rejected by union representatives.
AFSCME 3299 workers have been without a contract since June 2017, despite numerous offers presented by the UC. The most recent offer included a 3% wage increase and “the same health insurance rates as other employees,” according to an email from Gordon. Over the past two years of bargaining, seven other unions have successfully negotiated acceptable contracts with the UC.
After another 40-day bargaining session this fall, AFSCME-represented workers seem no closer to reaching a contractual agreement with the UC than two years ago. While union representatives are still unsatisfied with offers, the UC claims it has been generous and has consistently bargained in good faith.
“It would be unfair to provide AFSCME-represented workers more than double the raises of other UC employees, which is what the union is demanding,” Gordon said.
Another statement released by Dwaine Duckett, the UC’s vice president for systemwide human resources and programs, offered a different take on the disconnect between union and UC representatives.
“Given the hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding cuts UC has absorbed over the past five years, we must be fiscally prudent,” Duckett said. “University leaders have to be mindful that large, programmatic increases in pay and benefits for these workers drive up the cost of services they provide. We cannot — and will not — balance AFSCME’s demands on the backs of our students and patients.”
AFSCME service workers as well as patient care technical workers joined in strike activities across the state and garnered national attention for their efforts. In response to letters sent by union members urging Democratic candidates to respect union boycotts, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) made the decision to change the venue of the December Democratic debate. Previously, UCLA was scheduled to host the debate.
“In response to concerns raised by the local organized labor community in Los Angeles, we have asked our media partners to seek an alternative site for the December debate,” said Mary Beth Cahill, the DNC senior advisor, earlier this week in an article in the Huffington Post.
Written by: Ally Russell — firstname.lastname@example.org