Thousands of UC service workers and patient care employees held a statewide strike on Nov. 20, protesting UC administrators for “unfair cuts” and creating “a campaign of illegal intimidation” against its workers. Called the Unfair Labor Practice Strike, the statewide event was held in nine UC campuses and in each of the UC hospitals.
Vote to strike
Employees of the UC’s largest labor union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, have been in contract negotiations with the UC for the past 18 months. With no signs of negotiations being reached in the near future, however, the union decided to strike.
The first wave of protests came in May 2013, when UC patient care and service workers from the union held a two-day strike, protesting “unsafe staffing levels at taxpayer supported UC hospitals.” Following that strike, UC administrators allegedly threatened their workers. As AFSCME member Leo Tolliver put it, officials told workers that “when they came back to work, they would be terminated.”
According to a press release by AFSCME 3299, the alleged rampant illegal intimidation that followed the strike in May led the union to vote on a follow-up strike. With 96 percent of the members voting in favor of another strike, the union announced it would hold a second round of strikes on Nov. 20, 2013.
University of California officials attempted to prevent the follow-up strikes, believing that the conflicts would only drive the two sides apart and hurt the UC’s hospital patients.
The day before the Nov. 20 strikes, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David I. Brown issued an injunction that limited the number of UC patient care workers that would be allowed to participate in the UC-wide event. Brown issued a temporary restraining order, limiting “certain employees who perform essential functions in patient health and safety” from participating.
That same day, in an op-ed for UCLA’s Daily Bruin, AFSCME 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger spoke about the underlying issues regarding Wednesday’s strike. According to her, the UC had already forced AFSCME to concede on many issues that had been previously lobbied. Such issues included wage and benefit increases, so AFSCME instead zoned in on an increasingly growing problem: safe staffing. The growing trend of cutting corners, to Lybarger, led to rising injury rates among service workers, as well as a swelling number of fines and deficiency reports against UC hospitals.
At UCR, the strikes took place on the corner of University Avenue and Canyon Crest Drive, the intersection at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Canyon Crest Drive and at the Bell Tower. According to the union, the statewide strikes were scheduled to last all day and featured a list of notable speakers including state senators, assembly members, a mayoral candidate and city supervisors.
“Stop intimidation tactics!” roared the crowd of hundreds at the intersection of University Avenue and Canyon Crest Drive, as protesters held picket signs, blared music and cheered whenever passing cars honked in support.
The bulk of the protesters were made up of AFSCME union members and UCR students who supported those directly affected by the UC’s policies. Some UCR faculty members and a handful of graduate students and professors were also present, who, like the undergraduate students, wanted to support the strike.
“I come from a working class background, so I understand why these people are angry,” said Norman Barrios, a fourth-year transfer student and AFSCME member who attended the strike. “Their labor is what makes the university run.”
Jason Struna, a fifth-year sociology Ph.D. candidate and member of the UC Student-Workers Union (UAW 2865), discussed how the lives of many faculty members are connected to school. “When the working class at UCR suffer, we suffer too,” he said. “Everybody gets hurt.”
Computer science lecturer Brian Linard echoed the sentiments of protesters: “The decency that the ordinary person can count on in life has been won through the blood, sweat and tears of unions,” he said.
Union members from eight other UCs across the state also decided to go on strike. Up north, an estimated 200 patient care and service workers braved the morning drizzle at UC Davis, while about 400 others also protested through the pouring rain in Berkeley. At UCLA and UCI, the schools’ medical centers were opened, but the strikes forced the centers to cancel a number of surgeries. According to one report, hundreds of replacement workers replaced the employees on strike.
An estimated 73 percent of dining service workers did not report to work at UCR on Wednesday. According to Director of Dining Services Cheryl Garner, the department was missing 68 of 95 scheduled workers — although those numbers were lower in the morning and higher in the afternoon. In all, the department lost $39,400 in revenue due to the strike that day.
Todd Stenhouse, a spokesperson for the union, spoke with the Highlander about the workers’ compensations during the strike. According to him, although union members did not report to work, they were still compensated through a strike fund the union maintains for this purpose. The compensation amount has not been released as of press time, however.
Because of the strike, many services on campus were closed for the day. According to UCR officials and the UCPD, some of the closed restaurants on campus were the Barn, Subway, the Grill inside Latitude 55, Ivan’s and all of the restaurants inside the first floor of the HUB.
Graduate student Sean Liu acknowledged the importance of the strike, but he also voiced his frustration with the limited dining options. “Since today, I had to walk around the campus, trying to find a vending machine and I only had one buck in my pocket, because they didn’t take my credit card, which means that this is my lunch for today,” he said, holding up a bag of potato chips.
UC officials also responded to the loss of production.
“First, I want to say how grateful we are to the majority of our patient care technical and service employees, who put the needs of patients and students first and came to work during AFSCME’s strike,” read a press release by Dwaine B. Duckett, UC vice president of human resources.
“AFSCME’s two-day strike in May and its follow-up strike on Wednesday were counterproductive and costly,” he went on. “It also did nothing to bring us closer together. Our patients and students deserve better.”
Members of AFSCME 3299 also responded to the loss of services and acknowledged the students’ concerns. “The students have to understand that they want to eat, yes, but we want to get paid, we want to live in dignity,” said AFSCME member Leo Tolliver. “We stand with our students. We fight, we protest, we lobby for tuition hikes, we lobby for our non-documented immigrant students, but yet and still, we should live in dignity, too.”
In all, the labor union believes the strikes were necessary. “Yesterday was an historic moment of solidarity for all who share in the moral obligation to make UC facilities safer places to live, learn, heal and thrive,” said AFSCME President Lybarger the day following the event.
For additional coverage of the the event, check out our video report at youtube.com/UCRChannelH.