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UC Workers Hold Systemwide One-Day Strike for a Better Contract

UC workers strike outside UCI Medical Center, holding signs, marching and chanting.

University of California, Irvine clerical workers and support staff went on a one-day strike last Tuesday, Jan. 10 outside of the UCI Medical Center and the UCI Student Health II building. The strike was meant to protest allegedly unfair wages and labor practices on the part of UC administration, and show solidarity with the UCLA skilled labor Teamsters, who had been on a five day strike at the same time.

The strikers and protesters were among an estimated 12,000 workers who protested across the entire UC system last Tuesday as part of a strike organized by their union, Teamsters Local 2010.

Currently, the workers’ union is in the midst of contract negotiations with the UC, but they have stalled for months. Contract negotiations began in May 2016 between the union and the UC but the two parties failed to reach an agreement before the workers’ contracts expired last November. Negotiations are ongoing, but the union believes the stalling to be a tactic employed by the UC to get a better agreement for themselves.

“They’re saying we shouldn’t strike because we should ‘prioritize’ the University, patients and students.  How insulting!  We prioritize the University by working hard year after year, yet the University has failed to ‘prioritize’ us,” said union representatives in a press release.  “UC has driven down our real wages by 24 percent over the last two decades, and now refuses to bargain in good faith for fair raises, showing that UC does not care that workers are not paid enough to live.”

Jason Rabinowitz, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 2010, said that while the average pay for employees is about $20 per hour, this represents a decrease in real wages due to the increased cost of living over time, particularly in areas such as Los Angeles, Irvine and San Francisco where the cost of living is extremely high.

According to an Occidental College report released in late 2016, 70 percent of UC workers suffer from hunger or food insecurity.

In contrast to union statements, UC administration states that it is offering workers a fair contract and that the strike is simply a negotiating tactic on the part of the Union.

“UC clerical employees are currently paid wages that are market competitive,” said UC in a press release. “This is based on market studies that the university routinely conducts to ensure that we fairly compensate our employees, and continue to be able to recruit and retain a quality workforce.”

UC has stated that its own offer “is a multi-year contract spanning six fiscal years that would give clerical employees a total pay increase of 18 percent by the end of the contract (3 percent increase each year, comprised of across-the-board and performance-based increases). [UC’s] proposal also includes affordable health benefits, retirement benefit options that offer a choice between a traditional (defined benefit) pension plan and a 401(k)-style (defined contribution) plan, and good working conditions.”

UC also questioned the legality of the strike, stating that strikes conducted before the completion of the full bargaining process are “potentially unlawful.”

The Union responded to the question of legality promptly, releasing another statement citing a California Supreme Court decision to prove the strike’s legality.

“They’re trying to scare us by suggesting that our strike is unlawful, even though they know very well that the strike is lawful and protected,” stated the union. “If UC really thought the strike was unlawful, they would have asked the state for an injunction to stop it — but they did not.”

In a final statement in a press release, Rabinowitz said, “Today’s strike shows that the workers who make the University of California work will no longer put up with unfair treatment. We will continue to stand together and take action until UC bargains in good faith for a fair contract that pays workers enough to live.”