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UC Workers Strike for Better Pay

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union that represents public workers from the UCs, are striking from May 7-9 at eight of the 10 campuses, including Irvine. At UCI, members of AFSCME Local 3299 are holding rallies on the main campus as well as at the UCI Medical Center in Orange.

According to David Kreisman, communications assistant for AFSCME, over 1,000 members attended the demonstration on May 7, with more expected to attend in the following two days. Strikers, donning green shirts with “We Run UC” printed on their backs held signs calling for equality and stood in front of the medical center, marching across several blocks.

The strikes come after over a year of bargaining and the UC system failing to meet workers’ demands or come to a compromise.

Arthur Hernandez, who has been a tech under the ophthalmology department for two years, said the five-year freeze the UCs intended on implementing on worker raises motivated many of the workers to join the strike. In addition to the freeze, Hernandez also mentioned potential yearly increases in medical premiums as well as opt-out pensions for incoming workers.

“The entire ophthalmology department here has been shut down… the people who showed up were sent to Irvine… if we can get the OR with us, they would really be hit financially,” Hernandez said about the strike’s impact on UCI.

“We hope [administrators] see the importance of the employees,” Hernandez continued. “Negotiations have been going on for a while.”

Others, like Tamera Lester, a secretary at UCI’s Medical Center, are striking on behalf of the next generation. Lester, despite having just finished a 12 hour shift, attended the rally along with her daughter and two grandsons.

“This is really for the people coming after me, for the new generation to have the benefits that I had,” Lester said. “We’re human too. The rich just want to stay richer but we need pay that will stay with the rate of the economy in California.”

Monica De Leon, a representative from the union who helped to organize the strike, has been working at the center for nearly 13 years. She hopes their actions will “bring awareness to the growing inequality.”

“When there are 5,000 executives making more than all the workers, and the fact that most workers qualify for some sort of government assistance, that’s just an example of inequality,” she said.  

The main issues De Leon hopes the UCs will address are “outsourcing, career growth and being able to retire with dignity.”

“There were reports about the $175 million from Janet Napolitano’s office so the money’s there,” she said, in regards to a state audit released last year that discovered the UC Office of the President possessed such undisclosed funds..

Following today’s rally, the California Nurses Association (CNA) as well as the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) will be going on a sympathy strike as an expression of solidarity with AFSCME.

With the looming supreme court decision Janus v. AFSCME, De Leon foresees membership dropping to some degree, but has been working with the union’s member action team to inform members of potential changes in the near future.

In response to the strike, the UC issued a statement arguing that the strike is “only hurting the union’s own members who will lose pay for joining this ill-advised three-day walkout, while negatively affecting services to patients and students. A disruptive demonstration will change neither UC’s economic situation nor the university’s position on AFSCME’s unreasonable demands.”

The statement contends that AFSCME service workers are paid “at or above” market rate, and that the university “cannot justify to taxpayers such an excessive raise, no matter how much we appreciate our service workers, which include custodians, gardeners, food service workers and maintenance staff.”

AFSCME will continue to strike until Wednesday, May 9.