UC Workers Announce Strike to Protest Income Gaps and Job Insecurity

Photo courtesy of David Carlos.

The University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119 (UPTE-CWA) announced an upcoming strike last Friday to protest against income gaps and job insecurity throughout the UC system. The strike will occur from 4:00 a.m. on March 20 to 4:00 a.m. on March 21.

The union represents 15,000 University of California (UC) research, technical, and health care workers. These include information technology workers, pharmacists at medical centers, and counseling psychologists at mental health services offered throughout UC campuses.

According to David Carlos, an UPTE-CWA bargainer for business and technology support analysts, there will be three locations that the strikers will congregate: Gilman Parking Structure, Thornton Hospital, and Hillcrest Medical Center. The strikers hope that the UC will come back to the bargaining table to re-negotiate contracts.

“I am striking for job security. ” Carlos said. “We are making sure that jobs don’t go to outsourced companies because they should stick with current employees of the UC.”

The union has been unable to negotiate a contract with the UC system for the past two years. Following the stalemate in negotiations, a total of 39,000 workers across UC campuses will be authorized to strike on March 20.

According to The Sacramento Bee, the UC’s latest offer to UPTE-CWA included an annual 3 percent wage increase from 2020-23, a one-time payment of $1,250 upon ratifying the contract, and a $25 cap on health care premiums with the UC’s Kaiser and Health Net Blue and Gold Plans.

The American Federation of County, State, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, the largest labor union in the UC system, has announced it will strike in solidarity with UPTE-CWA.

AFSCME organized two strikes within the last year. The union’s first strike protested increasing income, gender, and race disparities; its most recent strike protested low wages and job outsourcing for workers at all UC medical centers and campuses. UPTE-CWA walked out in solidarity with AFSCME members during both strikes.

“For nearly 2 years, UC has refused to recognize the value of its workers and has instead worked to worsen income inequality,” says AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “Thousands of UC workers represented by UPTE-CWA recognize that the University’s efforts to flatten wages, cut benefits, and eliminate middle-class career pathways are hurting families, and our members are proud to strike with them in solidarity.”

The labor unions have also criticized the recent Board of Regents vote to increase the base pay of executives and faculty. According to a study released last April, the UC system’s top one percent of wage earners make an average of $9 for every dollar that all other workers earn, with top administrator salaries growing by 64 percent from 2005 to 2015.

Stephanie Flores, member of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and former student intern for AFSCME Local 3299, spoke to The Triton regarding the striking laborers. Flores said that the UC has been cutting pensions and wages of counseling psychologists at UCSD Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), who are part of the UPTE-CWA union, causing a scarcity of resources. The current student to full-time employee ratio at UCSD CAPS is 1:1550.

“We are still in the process of planning more ways we will show our solidarity. So far, we plan to show up to the strike, phone bank, table and develop a petition for students to sign,” Flores said. “We will be working on educating students on how UPTE’s contract directly affects us.”

The Triton also reached out to the UC Office of the President (UCOP) about the UC system’s stance on the strike. Claire Doan, UCOP Director of Media Relations, said that UPTE leadership has unreasonable demands for double-digit raises.

UPTE leaders have neither presented a realistic counteroffer, nor have they let their members vote on UC’s proposals,” Doan told The Triton. “AFSCME leaders distributed a press release announcing their intent to strike at the same time their negotiators were with UC at the table. This is disingenuous. It’s clear they are not truly engaging in the bargaining process, while we remain intent on making reasonable compromises to get a deal.”

In response to the first AFSCME strike last May, Kamala Harris, Mayim Bialik, and John Lewis withdrew from speaking at the commencement ceremonies of UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD, respectively, to support UC workers. It is unclear whether or not the upcoming strike will affect the status of this year’s all-campus commencement speaker, Madeleine Albright.

“The plan after the strike is to continue negotiating so we can get the UC to come back to the bargaining table,” Carlos said. “Our plan is to get community involvement to continue the push with the UC Regents for all 15,000 workers across the state of California.”

Ella Chen is the News Editor of The Triton. You can follow her @cinder_ellachen.