UCR’s United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) held a protest in support of union AFSCME 3299 last Wednesday. The protest consisted of making Valentine’s Day cards, signed by multiple student organizations such as La Union Estudiantil de la Raza and Mujeres Unidas, which were then personally delivered to UCR’s Office of the Chancellor in Hinderaker Hall.
For the past 20 months, UC officials and the union, which represents 21,000 UC patient care and service workers in the UC system, were engaged in a dispute regarding contract settlements. The failed negotiations culminated in a strike on Nov. 20 of last year, and since then, the contract dispute has yet to be settled. As a result, AFSCME held a strike vote from Feb. 11 to 13, where members voted to authorize a strike. Among the disputes described were fair living wages, greater workplace protections and priority work schedules for senior employees.
USAS Media Advisor Luz Nunez gave an example of other issues currently facing some UC employees. “A mother of a child with disabilities had her schedule changed without them contacting her first, which made it difficult for her to provide adequate childcare for her daughter,” she said. “USAS supports all workers in order to improve their conditions. We want the workers to know we’re there with support for them.”
USAS members Nunez and Ruby Allon tabled during a Wednesday nooner and asked surrounding student organizations to sign a Valentine’s Day card for UCR’s Chancellor Kim Wilcox that read, “I support campus workers” to show support for their cause. Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social de UCR and Condom Co-Op were among the groups that signed these cards, which were then handed out as Valentine’s Day cards to campus administrators.
An AFSCME member and UCR mail services worker, Curtis Washington, described his overall experience at UCR as great due to the diversity on campus. When asked about the strike, Washington stated, “I think it’s our right to strike and to be treated as first-class citizens. We’re all equal. Everybody is, including the chancellor. We are all equally as good.”
While the dispute still continues, USAS and the other groups pledged to stand by AFSCME. It was announced on Feb. 14 that AFSCME members voted to strike, but have yet to select a date. According to UCOP Media Specialist Shelly Meron, this is the third time in less than a year that the union has taken a strike vote.
Meron also described the upcoming strike as “unfortunate” due to ongoing negotiations between university officials and the union. “Strikes are extremely disruptive to our patients and students, and so far have cost the university about $30 million,” she said. “We’ve shown significant flexibility on issues AFSCME has said are important to them, but union leaders have repeatedly rejected our offers and refused to show the same flexibility.”