UCI Begins Insourcing

On Wednesday April 28, 2010, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor Wendell Brase sent a UCI-wide e-mail stating that the insourcing of UCI’s custodial workers was underway. His reassurance, however, has proven less than convincing to the union organizers, students and workers employed under custodial powerhouse ABM who have been carrying out the insourcing campaign for nearly two years.

Vice Chancellor Brase’s e-mail states that ABM workers will “receive priority applicant status in upcoming recruitments for positions.” AFSCME Local 3299 Organizer Celene Perez remains unconvinced.

“This is not insourcing of the workers,” Perez said. “These workers, some of whom have been working here for 20 years, are not being guaranteed these jobs. That is not how insourcing works. In fact, it’s not how insourcing occurred at UCI a few years back during the insourcing of landscapers and dining workers. They are trying to redefine insourcing to fit their agenda.”

In response to questions concerning worker dissatisfaction, Director of Media Relations for the University,  Cathy Lawhon, stated, “One issue is that ABM contracts for a certain number of workers, and there’s the question of whether we [the University] would allocate workers in the same way.”

Lawhon used a hypothetical situation to explain. “Say we contract with ABM for 150 workers, and then in our estimation of how many workers we will need, we think we can get by with 130. In that case we might say we are insourcing the positions but we don’t need as many workers.”

AFSCME organizers and  workers argue that the e-mail is one more example of UCI’s long history of unfair labor practices, especially when it comes to subcontracted workers. AFSCME organizer Juan Castillo commented on the situation.

“Administration is trying to avoid having to enter into real and fair negotiations with workers over the insourcing process.,” Castillo said.

A main point of contention for UCI administration appears to be the insourcing process. Vice Chancellor Brase’s e-mail to the campus states that “UCI has repeatedly expressed willingness to insource custodial workers who meet university employment criteria and complete standard hiring procedures that are mandated by law for all staff.”

Lawhon reiterated this view in response to questions concerning worker dissatisfaction with the route through which the university had chosen to insource ABM workers.

“What we are requiring [the workers] to do is follow university policy. At the classification and level that these workers are employed, university policy requires them to meet the criteria,” Lawhon said.

Many students and workers, however, are holding the belief that the Administration’s position rings of racism and discrimination against the largely Latina/o custodians.

“These workers can meet the same criteria used in previous insourcing campaigns,”  Castillo said. “But UCI is changing the criteria for these workers. This is an act of discrimination. These workers are not being treated like other workers who have gone through the insourcing process in the past at UCI and at other UC campuses. These workers are being discriminated against by UCI administration.”

According to a statement by ABM Spokesman Tony Mitchell, the company does “comply with all state and federal laws regarding employment eligibility and verification.” This suggests that UCI’s service workers have already met the criteria alluded to in the vice chancellor’s e-mail, and therefore, all qualify for direct UCI employment.

“It’s a question of racism and exploitation,” said sociology graduate student Fernando Chirino. “This is racism, plain and simple. We talk about racism and profiling in Arizona, but we fail to recognize it here. These workers are currently working here, some for over 20 years… to deny them being insourced, or to have them meet a different set of criteria because of their background is racist.”

According to Dennis López, a graduate student and Worker-Student Alliance member, previous insourcing campaigns also proved an uphill battle, with UCI administration refusing to insource workers from the start.

“In all the insourcing campaigns, Administration has actively tried to undermine the workers’ efforts to obtain direct UCI employment,” López said. “From intimidation on the job to the spreading of misinformation, like it’s currently doing about the ABM campaign, Administration has always refused to negotiate in good faith.”

UCI Custodians are the only large pool of service workers who remain outsourced in the entire UC system. AFSCME Local 3299 has been working on insourcing service workers in a UC-wide campaign that began in 2002. This campaign has managed to secure better jobs and benefits for thousands of workers and their families throughout the state.

AFSCME Local 3299 and the ABM workers’ insourcing committee both claim that Vice Chancellor Brase’s e-mail on insourcing is just another bad faith tactic to prevent these workers from rightfully obtaining direct UCI employment.
“The actions will continue and will escalate until UCI Administration does the right thing and guarantees not the positions but the current 140 plus workers the UCI jobs they deserve,” Flores said.