Union Strikes For Higher Wages

On April 14, dozens of employees from Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents over 7,300 service workers in the UC system, went on a one-day strike at all the UC campuses and medical centers, including UC Irvine and the UCI Medical Center. Joined by students and workers from other unions, AFSCME was attempting to convince the UC to increase wages for its workers.
According to a news release from AFSCME, 92 percent of its workers voted for a strike ‘to protest the lack of training and promotion opportunities and the poverty wages that don’t support families, as students pay more for less services and top UC executives get huge pay raises and bonuses.’
Paul Worthman, chief negotiator for AFSCME, said that workers in the union need a guaranteed increase in wages.
‘We do not want something where what we’re getting is a maybe,’ Worthman said. ‘They say we’ll give you the money but we won’t definitely get it. We want to know that any wage increase we agree to will be guaranteed, will be paid by the UC.’
A UC representative explained that the university cannot meet AFSCME’s demands due to funding uncertainties from the state.
‘The union demands that they receive increases … that their increases are guaranteed,’ said Noel Van Nyhuis of the UC Office of the President. ‘But we’re just not in a position to guarantee them until we know our compact with the governor will be fully supported by the legislature.’
Van Nyhuis maintained that ‘The university is very sensitive to the fact that our service workers, along with most UC employees, have not received pay increases in the last two years due to repeated budget cuts and lack of funding from the state.’
In addition to the inability of the UC to guarantee an increase in wages for the service workers, Van Nyhuis said that the UC is unable to give the amount of money that AFSCME demands.
‘What the union is demanding are increases every six months for the next three years that would total a 20-percent increase,’ Van Nyhuis said. ‘That is twice what the compact can support and would cost the university over $36 million to fund alone.’
Another problem that AFSCME has with the UC is that the service workers are typically unable to get promotions to or training for senior-level, higher-paying jobs. Instead, those jobs are usually given to friends and relatives of UC administrators.
‘The second thing we want [is for] the workers to have real opportunities to be promoted into vacancies that exist for which the workers are qualified,’ Worthman said. ‘We don’t want them to pass over qualified workers for traders and relatives coming from the outside that are usually not as qualified as workers who have put in many dedicated years of service.’
According to the Daily Pilot, about 75 of the 300 service employees at the UCI campus protested in front of the flagpoles.
These employees lost a day’s pay but suffered no other penalties. They were supported by students and other unions, including the Coalition of University Employees and United Auto Workers. UCI decided to block off the entrance into the roundabout by the Administration Building so that their demonstrations went on without incident.
Van Nyhuis said on behalf of the UC that AFSCME’s strike was illegal according to bargaining laws because the two sides have not finished negotiations.
‘Because AFSCME called this strike before the statutorily mandated impasse process was completed, the UC believes this strike is not only unlawful and unprotected under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, but also clearly demonstrates bad-faith bargaining by the union,’ Van Nyhuis said.
AFSCME stated that the strike was legal and that the UC’s allegations otherwise are an attempt to intimidate the workers into not striking.
‘It is an absolutely false statement and the UC knows it is a false statement,’ Worthman said. ‘They’re saying the strike is illegal to intimidate the workers and from the response of the workers today all over the state, the intimidation did not work.’
According to AFSCME the legal bargaining process reached an impasse when the UC rejected their contract offer. As such, a strike was a viable and legal recourse for the union.
‘The university is saying, ‘Well, we’re still considering the findings [of the fact finding report released in March] so we’re not done with the process,’ but legally the process is done when the report is issued,’ said Faith Raider, spokesperson of Local 3299 of AFSCME.
AFSCME representatives explained why they chose a one-day strike instead of a prolonged strike at the UC campuses across the state
‘We wanted to show that people are willing give up a day’s pay to fight for justice and to fight for what’s right,’ Worthman explained.
A second reason for a one-day strike was to keep the strain on professors, students and other staff members minimal while showing the workers’ resolve in this issue with the UC.
‘[The bargaining committee] wanted to minimize the disruption to the rest of the campus community since the students and faculty and other workers have been so supportive of our issues,’ Raider said. ‘We didn’t want our first militant action to put everybody at an inconvenience for a long time.’
Ike Amoli, a first-year chemistry major and a resident of Mesa Court did feel the absence of the workers in his housing complex, but feels that their strike was justified.
‘There were hardly any workers [in Commons] and we had to serve ourselves breakfast,’ Amoli said. ‘I think they do have a right to strike and to get a better living for themselves and their families.’
Other actions by AFSCME are still in the planning phases and further negotiations between the UC and the union haven’t been planned.