UC Workers Voice Frustration and Exhaustion During Second AFSCME Strike

Yang Lu / The Triton

UC employees belonging to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 went on strike at UC San Diego and university hospitals from October 23–25, protesting the outsourcing of labor, benefit cuts, and insufficient wages.

As the largest UC labor union, AFSCME Local 3299 represents 24,000 UC employees, consisting of 14,000 medical workers and 10,000 custodial, maintenance, and food service workers. AFSCME Local 3299 workers from all UC campuses were joined by members of University Professional and Technical Employees and Communications Workers of America (UPTE-CWA) in striking statewide for the second time this year.

At UCSD, strikers gathered outside Gilman Parking Structure. The strike consisted of mostly Latinx and female service workers, reflecting their significant representation within the union. Small groups of UCSD students gathered at the street corner with AFSCME signs and cheered when cars honked in support.

UCSD Communications Director for Student Affairs Christine Clark confirmed that the school was using temporary outsourced labor to replace the striking workers, like it did during AFSCME’s previous strike from May 7–9

Several facilities run by Housing Dining Hospitality (HDH) closed due to the strike, including Goody’s Place and Market, Earl’s Market, John’s Market, Foodworx, and Roots.

Strikers shared some of their reasons for striking with The Triton. Many strikers were personally affected by the negotiations, while others were on strike to support their co-workers, families, and friends.

An older female custodian for the Warren dorms, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, took issue with the lack of a wage increase in proportion to her job’s growing physical difficulty. “As we are getting older, they are giving us more work instead of giving us lighter work,” she said to The Triton in an interview given in Spanish. “We have given [UCSD] all of our youth.”

She attributes the increase in work to UCSD’s over-admittance of students. “We were not informed that there were going to be more students in each dormitory,” she said. “If any of our bosses, the ones from the top, were watching what we do, I swear that they would pay us double.”

Janneke Coleman, a Pines cashier who worked in the kitchen until she got injured, says supervisors have not fully adhered to her doctor’s specified accommodations. She feels the impacts of understaffing both in her workload and her hurt shoulder.

“There are less workers in all the facilities. When I started out in 2005 there was way more help,” Coleman said. “But now every time somebody leaves, they never replace them…so you do work for three people.”

Patient care technical workers also feel that their job difficulties have increased, but for different reasons. Many hospital jobs exhibit a high turnover rate because they are contracted out to temporary workers. Training these new workers, who are often paid less than union employees, adds to the hospital’s inefficiency.

Besides union members, non-affiliates such as Dr. Gregory Koch of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) also participated in solidarity with striking workers.

“[The UC system] is trying to increase [workers’] healthcare premiums by 61 percent, at the same time that they’re outsourcing the jobs, so wait times for patients and students increase,” Koch said. “I think understaffing in general and contracting out jobs impacts the care of patients at UC Health.”

When asked for comment, UC Office of the President (UCOP) representative Claire Doan reiterated that AFSCME’s strike prioritizes the union’s agenda over the campus community’s best interests. AFSCME Local 3299 and the UC system have been in stalled negotiations since the union’s first strike. Union-raised issues such as the UC system’s income, gender, and racial disparities have carried over to the second strike.

“We’ve seen data that suggests that the practices of outsourcing by the University are emerging from racial and gender biases in the hiring process,” John de los Angeles, communications director of AFSCME Local 3299, said to The Triton. “The school’s position on social mobility is at odds with some of these practices, and we want to put an end to it.”

Camille Lemesoff and Vrinda Chauhan are Staff Writers for The Triton.