Photo Credits: KIYOMI WATSON / AGGIE FILE
Tentative agreements signify end of three years of over 25,000 union-represented employees working without a contract
The UC’s largest employee union reached a tentative four-year agreement on Jan. 22 that will serve approximately 10,000 UC service workers. Almost a week later, on Jan. 28, around 16,000 patient care workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 learned that the union made a separate, but also tentative, four-year agreement with UC.
Service workers were expected to vote to ratify their contract by Jan. 30. Patient care workers will vote to ratify their contract on Feb. 4 and Feb. 6.
In both cases, AFSCME Local 3299’s bargaining team recommends a “yes” vote, according to statements published by the union after the service and patient care workers reached their respective tentative contract agreements.
“We are pleased that after working with AFSCME leadership to address joint concerns and resolve our outstanding differences, we are able to meet the needs of our valued patient care and service workers as well as those of the University,” said Peter Chester, the UC’s director of labor relations, in a statement released Jan. 28.
Since 2017, AFSCME Local 3299 patient care and service workers have been working without contracts. In their negotiations to update the contracts, AFSCME Local 3299, like other labor unions, tried to advocate for better working conditions, higher pay, health insurance and job security on behalf of over 25,000 workers.
Under the new contracts, AFSCME Local 3299-represented patient care and service workers within the UC will have salary-based health insurance, annual 3% across-the-board wage increases and annual 2% experience-based wage increases, among other benefits.
“This has been a long and hard process that required both sides to seek common ground and work in good faith,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lynbarger.
Additionally, on Jan. 21, K7 Skilled Craftworkers at UC Santa Cruz, who are also represented by the union, also received a contract after two years of negotiating.
A statement from the union cites the new K7 contract as not including mandatory on-call shifts, offering the right to refuse unsafe work assignments, the same protections on healthcare and pension as service workers and job security.
“These agreements provide hardworking UC employees with the benefits and protections they deserve, and it moves [the] UC closer to being the kind of employer we need to be,” said UC Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez.
AFSCME Local 3299 intern Isabelle Chavez, a third-year sociology major at UC Davis, has been part of the union’s campaign to renegotiate the contracts since she was a first-year.
According to Chavez, the union had a lot of provisions they wanted, and every time the UC and AFSCME Local 3299 leaders met, the UC would only accept one thing on the union’s list.
“AFSCME had a strict vision of never settling for anything, which was good because they got everything they wanted,” Chavez said.
To advocate for their aims, AFSCME Local 3299 allies and workers focused on more than just strikes. Chavez said student interns for AFSCME Local 3299 have shown up at UC Regents’ houses and that she, along with other folks, often marched to Chancellor Gary May’s house to speak with him.
“We feel sometimes like no one’s listening, but you just have to step up [the pressure],” she said.
Despite the excitement of the past week, the AFSCME Local 3299 campaign was also emotionally trying. Chavez first got into labor organizing after hearing on-campus workers share their stories.
“I’ve heard many counts of harassment in the workplace — I couldn’t just stand around and watch these workers be mistreated,” she said. “Some folks I knew employed by the UC really hated whoever their boss was and how the system operated for them, so this has been a really painful fight.”
AFSCME Local 3299 employees and the union have both faced problems throughout the three-year negotiation period.
A 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME took millions of dollars away from public employee unions, including AFSCME Local 3299, by declaring fair share fees, or dues paid by non-member workers, unconstitutional. The case, sponsored by anti-union organizations, aimed to prevent unions from obscuring details about when members could opt out of union membership.
Another trying incident occurred on Oct. 25, 2018 when an alleged UC Davis managerial worker “aggressively attempted to drive his truck through the [AFSCME] picket line as he repeatedly honked to scare the picketers,” according to a letter that demanded action from UC Davis. The incident resulted in AFSCME Local 3299 employees filing an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board in March 2019.
With the tentative contracts close to ratification, Lybarger said she believed AFSCME Local 3299’s work brought income inequality, the shrinking middle class and the power of large public institutions to light.
“It is our hope that the history we’ve made today can begin a new era of constructive dialogue between the university and its dedicated career workforce,” Lybarger said.
Chavez said AFSCME Local 3299 is still negotiating a contract for workers at UC Hastings.
“Though they’re still waiting, three out of four UC groups represented by ASFCME 3299 got their contracts and made history in the process,” she said. “These workers have some of the best contracts in California and they did that through three years of strikes and direct action. It’s a big deal.”
Written by: Janelle Marie Salanga — firstname.lastname@example.org