AFSCME and UPTE workers on strike. Carrying messages that read “UC FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW” and “END OUTSOURCING.” Photo courtesy of the author
From Oct. 23 to Oct. 25, two University of California unions, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 3299) and University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE-CWA 9119) went on strike. AFSCME 3299 represents service workers across UC campuses, as well as patient care technicians. The strike was the second one in six months in a fight with UC administration and regents for a living wage, job security, stable retirement, gender and racial justice, as well as for dignity and respect for labor at the UC.
In the Spring of 2018, AFSCME had a three-day strike which UPTE joined for one day. Across the University of California, the campus unions went on strike for the same reasons as in the Spring. The university showed no empathy for workers, and downright ignored their demands, leading the two unions to go on strike for a second time for the same contract fight.
UPTE-CWA 9119, whose representation includes workers in healthcare, research, and technical units, joined their co-workers in patient care for the full three days at the picket line in front of their workplace, Ronald Reagan hospital. Other workers represented by UPTE were also present, including audio visual installers from UCLA’s campus and social workers — to name a few. This was the first strike for many UPTE members, with one of the largest turnouts ever for the event.
Two main picket lines at UCLA where held in front of Ronald Reagan hospital and the Bruin Bear. Both AFSCME and UPTE marched throughout the UCLA campus for all three days, and down Wilshire Boulevard on the second day of the strike. Workers shut down the busy street for 30 minutes, chanting “shame on you” in front of the UCLA Wilshire Center, where many UC administrative staff work.
Workers across the UC have been going on strike for a number of reasons all tied to having the dignity of their labor respected by the UC. AFSCME has not had a contract for 20 months, because the UC refuses to meet their demands for extremely necessary standards of treatment in their workplace including receiving a 6 percent wage increase, maintaining a stable retirement plan with a pension, having sexual harassment trainings, ending increases to healthcare premiums; and putting a stop to the practice of outsourcing across the UC.
Outsourcing is the practice of hiring an outside company to perform services which were previously performed in-house, or privatizing labor under the brand that the “private sector can do a better job at a higher price.” Outsourcing puts workers’ job security in jeopardy and drives gender, racial, and income inequality. Additionally, at the UC outsourcing means doing business with companies that collaborate with ICE. UC labor leaders found 25 companies, including General Dynamics, that do hundreds of millions of dollars of business with the university and ICE.
Outsourcing happens across all UC campuses and this strike highlighted it as a main concern for workers, as seen on the white and green pickets carried throughout the three-days which had messages such as “Stop Outsourcing” and “End Outsourcing.” Often times outsourcing is branded as a necessary budgeting step for the UC, when in fact it is a way to circumvent giving workers the full benefits they deserve and pour more money into the pockets of the UC. It is a further step to take power away from workers, belittle their labor, and inflate inequity in the UC.
When this past year, UC regents gave salary raises to eight chancellors, including a salary raise from $795,675 to $819,545; when Gene Blocks, UCLA’s chancellor, salary increased from $428,480 to $468,211 since July of 2015; when UC regent president, Janet Napolitano, who makes upwards of $578,000 a year and was found to have stored over $175 million for a secret spending plan; how could anyone buy into the bullshit that the UC is “strapped for cash.”
Since 2010 UCLA in-state tuition has risen by 19.84 percent and 17.65 percent for out-of-state students. With increasing salaries for the administrative heads and increasing student tuition, what cuts to workers’ benefit and layoffs can the UC possibly disguise as necessary? Patterns like this no doubt inspired a chant heard this past week and which has been popular among UC students and activists for years: “UC your greed is showing, where is our tuition going?”
Yes, UC greed is showing when UC administrative heads make $428,480 yearly and some UC workers qualify for food stamps. UC greed is showing while UC administrative heads have salaries anywhere from $450,000 to over $800,000, and tell workers that they make “enough” since their wages are above “regional market price,” aka nearby McDonald’s workers’ wages.
Demands for the UC to stop outsourcing are tied to demands for racial and gender justice at the UC. A study that came out last spring found that Black women service workers at the UC are making $4,000 less annually than their white male counterparts. This discrepancy raises to $16,000 when comparing the salaries of a Black women in patient care as compared to their white male counterparts. As shown by AFSCME’s data Black and Latinx workers at the UC make on average 20 percent and 21 percent less than their white counterparts. The number of Black employees in the UC workforce has declined by nearly 40 percent over the last decade. When we know all of this, it becomes clear who the UC values and respects and who it does not. When the UC ignores workers’ demands it is not only an example of blatant greed, but also racism and sexism.
When workers have asked for a 6 percent wage increase in their contract the UC responded with an offer of a 2 percent increase, a percentage which does not keep up with inflation in Los Angeles. No doubt, the inspiration for the “2 percent don’t pay the rent” chant that was popular during the three-day strike. This lousy “offer” was made on the condition that step increases in pay raises would be eliminated.
Step increases ensure that a worker receives an increase in pay according to delineated “steps” which are dependent on the number of years someone works. A very simplified example is if you work five years and each year you work you receive an increase in pay. When there are no steps, however, whether or not a worker receives a raise is left up to the discretion of supervisors. Eliminating steps in the workplace creates a work environment prone to favoritism and discrimination in the workplace. The supervisor in authority decides who gets a pay raise based off who they like, rather than by objective measures of who has been working longer.
Step increases are an institutional measure put in place to curb discrimination in pay raises, and thus can only do so much to eradicate racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, and all other forms of discrimination in the workplace. The UCs gesture of a 2 percent wage increase is completely ignorant to a number of issues workers face beyond not being paid a decent wage. Clearly, this hardly constitutes an “offer” from an institution with severe documented practices of discrimination in the workplace.
Number 1 public university means shit when the university continues to ruthlessly privatize labor at the expense of UC workers’ job security and demands for equity. The university does not care about its workers and it does not care about its students. When students are facing food insecurity, houseless, and incredible debt — how can anything else be true? If there is one thing we know that the University of California does care about, however, is its reputation.
So while the University of California continues to sell itself as an empathetic institution that it is concerned with the well-being of its students, students showing up for workers absolutely wrecks that facade. When students show up for workers, the UC can no longer pretend that its behavior is well-intentioned and well-meaning. When students show up for workers, the UC can no longer disguise their blatant disrespect for the dignity of workers’ labor as a genuine concern for students “standard” of experience in university. When students show up for workers, the university can no longer perpetuate the toxic and backwards myth that workers’ demands for respect and dignity are a threat to students’ quality of experience at university (see the “AFSCME’s October 23-25 strike — threatening patient care is inappropriate and illegal” heading). This is a rhetorical ploy which we have heard over and over again by the UC to put students and workers against one another and evade accountability.
Students have a vital opportunity to show up for workers and subvert these lies. This includes thanking workers for their labor, getting involved with student groups that advocate for labor on campus like the Student Labor Advocacy Project and MEChA, turning out to UC regents meetings, etc.
The strike is over, yet like UC workers chanted on the last day, the fight goes on.