AFSCME strikes again after 20 months of bargaining with UC

At 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23, Service workers from all 10 UC campuses joined Patient Care Technical workers in striking for safe staffing, wage increases, benefit protections, job security, racial equality and the end of discrimination in the workplace, after UC ostensibly opted for a contract with healthcare premium increases, flattened wages, a forced 401(k) plan and continued outsourcing jobs. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 Bargaining Team, following a 20-month period of negotiations over new contracts that would cover Patient Care workers, called for a PCT strike that would take place from Oct. 23 to 25.

Due to the growing rate of outsourcing, job security is a main concern for UC Service and Patient Care Technical workers. AFSCME spokesman John de los Angeles has stated that the staffing ratio at UC San Francisco has been as high as 1 outsourced contractor to every 6 directly employed workers.” One senior custodian at the HUB for the past four years said, “First, there were four custodians in the department, then it became two, now it’s just me there. There’s workers that are leaving their jobs, but they’re (UC) going through agencies, getting temps. That’s not securing our jobs.” As a result of outsourcing, many UC Service and Patient Care Technical workers that retire are actively being replaced with low-wage temporary employee positions that have fewer benefit plans. The topic of job security has not yet been addressed by the UC Office of the President (UCOP), according to the bargaining update for Patient Care Technical Employees.

However, an email from UCOP states, “Over the past five years at UC, the number of patient care employees has increased by 18.9 percent (2,450 workers) and the number of service employees has increased by 14.4 percent (1,206 workers), consistent with the growth of all union workers by 9.9 percent (7,687 workers).”

According to Isaiah Martinez, media spokesperson and senior custodian in housing, when referring to gender disparities, oftentimes a woman of color will have the “same job qualifications, in some cases, the same years of service, yet, a gentleman could come in and make upwards of 17 percent more.” A study written by AFSCME Local 3299, “Pioneering Inequality,” and made public last April, examined promotions of 25,000 UC service and patient care workers for a period of four years, and revealed racial, gender and income related disparities within the UC system.

Owen Li, co-author of the study, states “When Black and Latino workers change jobs or get promoted, they receive far smaller pay increases on average than their white counterparts. Whether due to an implicit bias in UC’s employment practices or a real lack of structural career advancement opportunities, women and people of color who are employed in these job titles are clearly being short-changed.” UC has said, “AFSCME leadership has no qualms pointing a finger at UC while choosing to take a larger portion of their members’ paychecks. They increased membership rates in January, changing the monthly dues cap from $78 to $120.”

Union Organizer for AFSCME Local 3299 Leo Tolliver explains, “Basically, what we’re asking for for these workers are a cost of living raise. You’ve got some people here that work here all day, they get off here, they go work another job.” Expressing this situation, at 12 p.m. on the final day of the strike as the rally began, a worker lifted a sign which read “Workers Who Feed You Can’t Feed Themselves.”

UCOP addressed the topic with this comment, “AFSCME patient care and service workers are already compensated at or above market rates.” However, Tony Thurmond, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, states “The cost of living in California is one of the highest and these workers, some of the lowest paid at the UCs, are struggling to keep up with rising housing costs and to make ends meet.”

In regards to retirement plans, AFSCME has stated that UC has shifted from providing a choice between the pension plan and the 401(k) plan to instead forcing a 401(k) plan. By enforcing the 401(k) plan, people who have been inputting into the pension lose the guarantee of receiving their money. Although UC says otherwise, “UC’s proposed retirement benefits give new employees a choice between a 401(k)-style plan with a generous employer match and a traditional pension.” To these claims, Martinez states that UC is trying to force them into the 401(k) plan, “they’re saying that they’re not, that it’s a choice, but we’ve been having talks with new hires here at this university — at Riverside. We spoke to four of them and they said that they haven’t even talked about the pension plan that we have, they’re always talking about 401(k) style plan which is a 403b.”

Concerning the insurance policy, according to AFSCME in the last bargaining meeting, UC considered raising the health insurance by $25. Tolliver states, “We’re hoping to put a freeze on healthcare, a freeze on parking rates, basically we are asking the UC, give us the contract that just expired.” UC said, “A typical UC service employee contributes less than $20 per month for individual health coverage. At UC, coverage for an entire family starts at just $56.71 per month.”

Martinez, however, says, “My girls both have eczema and once our medical goes up, their medication is not cheap. Now with them (UC) raising health care benefits, they (UC) already implemented an increase of $20 but now their (Martinez’s daughters) medication went up $5. So now when I go see the doctor, it’s a $20 doctor visit and plus $15 for their medication, now I’m paying 35 almost $40. Before I wasn’t paying that much, I was paying about $25 for both, that’s how it’s affecting me.”

AFSCME has reached out to students for support. Martinez states, “We always ask students to come out and support. We ask them to support in different ways, when it comes to our dining halls or Scotty’s we ask, we know it’s only for three days but if you guys can, try not to eat there.” A solidarity strike sheet was created for students, who stand with the workers, to sign. “Students and workers united, will never be divided” was chanted throughout the strike in an effort to encourage students to actively participate. Martinez expresses his gratitude to the students who participated with AFSCME stating, “Without you guys, we have no job. Napolitano doesn’t have a job. No one has a job without you guys, so for you guys going ahead and supporting us, we appreciate it and say thank you.”

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