AFSCME strikes against University of California for fair wages and job protections

By Sheri Williams

Almost 40,000 health care workers took to the picket lines statewide in October for a three-day action against the University of California.

Patient care workers represented by AFSCME Local 3299 have been without a contract since December. They are fighting for fair wages and protections against the outsourcing of jobs to non-union contractors.

AFSCME 3299 represents about 25,000 patient care and service workers at the university’s 10 campuses and five hospitals.

In Sacramento, more than 500 workers marched at UC Davis Medical Center. Along with members of AFSCME 3299, members of UPTE-CWA 9199 and other unions and supporters chanted, rallied and held the line at the campus near Oak Park.

AFSCME’s service unit and UPTE-CWA voted to strike in sympathy with their union sisters and brothers in the patient care unit.

“Their average salary is about $55,000 a year. They want what all of us want – a wage that keeps pace with California’s skyrocketing cost of living, affordable health benefits, a chance to advance in their careers and a secure retirement,” said AFSCME Local 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger in an editorial in The Sacramento Bee. “Even as it just awarded pay hikes to executives making six-figure and seven-figure salaries, the university has bypassed bargaining and imposed employment terms that flatten wages, increase health premiums by 61 percent, raise the retirement age and guarantee the university can arbitrarily outsource what were once secure middle-class jobs to private firms that pay much less. But that’s not what UC is offering.”

Sacramento Central Labor Council executive director Fabrizio Sasso spoke at the picket lines, reminding strikers that the power of Organized Labor was behind them.

“I want you all to think about how the union has made a difference in your life,” Sasso said. “For some of you, you may have fell into this job, didn’t have much of a future to look forward to, but you found a union job. What did that provide you? That provides you some economic security. That provides you some health care that maybe your previous employer didn’t provide you. It gave you an opportunity to look ahead to retirement and start planning things.”

AFSCME also released a report showing that there may be racial bias in the University of California’s handling of employees. News organization CALmatters reported that, “white men working in service and patient care jobs at the university are less likely to be fired, more likely to be promoted and earn bigger salary bumps after changing jobs than workers of color. Based on payroll data the union obtained through public records requests, it follows a previous labor-funded study, Pioneering Inequality, that outlined race- and gender-based pay gaps among that workforce.”

The AFSCME data showed that black workers in some jobs were nearly twice as likely to lose their jobs that white men working the same jobs for the period of time examined.

“Your contract is the only thing that separates you from the rest of the workforce,” Sasso told strikers. “And it’s your union, and you making your union stronger, that gives you a strong contract. Every single line in your contract represents blood that has been spilled, represents a fight that has been won, represents a struggle that folks who came before you fought for.”