AFSCME Announces Strike Against the UC System for Unfair Labor Practices

Arlene Banuelos / The Triton

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 3299 (AFSCME) announced plans to strike on May 16 against the UC system after it filed three new Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaints in late April.

AFSCME is the UC system’s largest labor union and includes Housing Dining Hospitality (HDH) workers and other low-wage employees. AFSCME has been in contract negotiations for over two years, after the UC system repeatedly failed to meet their contractual demands for an 8% wage increase, an end to outsourcing, and better benefits.

“For more than three years, workers have been sounding alarms about UC’s efforts to outsource living wage jobs to poverty wage contractors,” said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “These latest charges highlight the scope of the University’s increasingly radical privatization scheme, which is ultimately focused on one thing—paying its lowest wage workers even less.”

The union previously striked in May 2018 and October 2018 against outsourcing and in support of their contract. It striked in solidarity with UPTE-CWA, another UC labor union, in March 2019. AFSCME filed a ULP complaint—complaints against the UC system for alleged violations of laws protecting worker rights to organize and collectively bargain—in March and striked for a day in April 2019. That complaint focused on worker intimidation and attempted strike breaking during previous labor strikes.

AFSCME filed three new ULP complaints in late April over outsourcing during strikes—one on April 23 and two on April 29—and announced a strike shortly after.

“It is clear AFSCME leaders are going to desperate lengths for attention,” UC Director of Media Relations Claire Doan told The Triton. “AFSCME’s contracting claims are a red herring: the real reason for continual strike activity is to gain leverage in negotiations, at which they have failed time and again. In spite of their rallying cry for ‘fairness,’ AFSCME’s tactics in fact are patently unfair and reveal their hypocritical motives: a 36% wage increase over four years—nearly triple the raises the university has given to other employees.”

At the same time that the UC system says giving low wage workers wage increases is too expensive, it also approved salary raises for administrators. In January, the UC Board of Regents gave Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher a bonus of $490 thousand on top of his salary of over $600 thousand, even after he was accused of misconduct. In previous years, Bachher has received bonuses as high as $1 million.

“The University likes to say that any further support of workers comes at [the] expense of students, but the university has treated their administrative class in a way that is a detriment to students,” AFSCME Communications Director John de los Angeles told The Triton. “For instance, administrator salaries grew by 64% between 2005 [and] 2015. Workers aren’t asking for anything like that.”

AFSCME released a study in April 2018, which sparked the May 2017 strike, finding that income disparities between high level administrators and low level workers disproportionately affect people of color. AFSCME followed up with another study in October 2018 finding that Black workers are more likely to be laid off or leave work involuntarily and white workers are more likely to advance in their careers.

“This is not just about UC’s serial lawbreaking, but its efforts to eliminate the last remaining middle-class careers in California,” Lybarger added. “Neither our patients, students, families or communities are being well served by a publicly financed race to the bottom.”

De los Angeles told The Triton that students can get involved by showing up to the picket line or attending the UC Board of Regents meeting the same day as the strike to show solidarity.

“I encourage students to reach out through the UC San Diego Labor Commission Facebook page, or to any members of USAS Local 94 that they know (including myself) to ask how they can support,” said Associated Students of UCSD Organizing Director and AFSCME Intern Prajay Lolabattu. “And if willing and able, I highly recommend that students show up to the picket line May 16, and to share this call to action in their classes, orgs, and any other networks accessible to them.”

Ethan Edward Coston is the Managing Editor of The Triton.