LA Times, Teresa Watanabe, 5-6-18
More than 50,000 workers across the University of California are set to strike this week, causing potential disruptions to surgery schedules, food preparation and campus maintenance. The system's 10 campuses and five medical centers are to remain open, with classes scheduled as planned.
UC's largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, plans to begin a three-day strike nvolving 25,000 workers, including custodians, gardeners, cooks, truck drivers, lab technicians and nurse aides. The union and university reached a bargaining impasse last year, and subsequent mediation efforts have failed to produce an agreement over wage increases, healthcare premiums and retirement terms. Two other unions have approved sympathy strikes and . About 14,000 members of the California Nurses Assn., who work at UC's medical centers and student health clinics, are set to walk off their jobs, along with 15,000 members of the University Professional & Technical Employees, who include pharmacists, clinical social workers, physical therapists, physician assistants and researchers. In addition, some members of UAW Local 2865, which represents graduate student workers who teach, tutor and grade assignments, may support the strike, which could result in cancellations of some classes, said Garrett Strain, a union official and UC Berkeley graduate student in sociology. Strain said his union did not authorize a strike because members are under contract but individuals are legally allowed to honor the picket lines.
UC officials said they have made contingency plans to keep disruptions to a minimum. At UCLA for instance, some eateries will be closed during the strike but other dining halls will remain open with extended hours. UCLA has hired temporary healthcare professionals to fill in for striking workers, and UC San Diego has rescheduled some elective surgeries at its medical center.
The union has assembled a voluntary "patient protection task force" whose members will leave the picket line to respond to life-threatening emergencies if needed, said AFSCME spokesman John de los Angeles.
AFSCME is pressing for a multiyear contract with an annual wage increase of 6%, no increase in healthcare premiums and a continued retirement age of 60 to qualify for full pension benefits.
Workers were angered by a recent study that showed a growing income gap between UC's highest-paid employees, who are disproportionately white men, and the lowest-paid workers, who are mostly women and non-whites, De los Angeles said. The union study, which officials say is based on previously unpublished UC data, showed that starting wages of blacks and Latinos were about 20% lower than white workers in comparable jobs. "Their concern can be boiled down to one word: inequality," De los Angeles said.
The university offered workers an annual increase of 3% over four years and an annual cap of $25 for any monthly premium increase, said UC spokeswoman Claire Doan. A proposal to raise the retirement age to 65 to qualify for full benefits would apply only to new employees who choose a pension instead of a 401(k) plan, she said. UC would sweeten the pot by reducing employees' retirement contribution from 9% to 7%. Doan said she could not confirm the accuracy of the union pay study but that any employee who feels unfairly treated can bring such concerns to UC officials.
She added that union leaders rejected the offer without a vote by members. However, 97% of members voted to authorize a strike last month.
The university then unilaterally imposed terms on workers, including a 2% raise for the next fiscal year, further angering the union. Doan said the union is demanding pay raises that are twice as high as those given to other UC employees. "The university cannot justify to taxpayers such an excessive raise, no matter how much we appreciate our service workers," she said in an email. "A strike will only hurt 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."