The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 is holding a strike today protesting alleged illegal outsourcing practices by the UC system. This will be AFSCME’s sixth strike since spring 2017.
AFSCME is the UC system’s largest labor union and includes Housing Dining Hospitality (HDH) workers and other low-wage employees. In October, AFSCME announced they had filed six new unfair labor practice (ULP) charges against the University of California, alleging that it secretly outsourced jobs normally held by UC employees to cheaper private contractors.
“The sad fact is that UC has accelerated the practice of replacing middle-class careers with less stable, lower wage contract jobs under the leadership [of] Janet Napolitano,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “This has only served to create more poverty and less social mobility for thousands of California’s most vulnerable workers.”
The ULP charges also claim that the University of California system failed to meet internal requirements for competitive contract bidding in an attempt to extend contracts and expand outsourcing without notifying the affected employees.
According to numbers from state legislative reports, the UC system increased spending on contracts from $345 million in 2016 to $523 million in 2019. The union estimates that there are around 7,000 contracted employees who are not covered by UC benefits and the $15 minimum wage policy.
“[T]he University of California is unilaterally imposing lower wages, more inequality, and more risk of employer abuse against its most vulnerable workers—mostly women and people of color,” said AFSCME ULP Committee Member and UC Irvine Hospital Unit Service Coordinator Monica De Leon. “This is not just morally bankrupt, unfair, and unsafe for the students and patients who depend on the work we do—it is illegal.”
UC Office of the President Associate Director of Media Relations Andrew Gordon told The Triton that the unfair labor practice charges and strike activity are attempts to gain leverage for contract negotiations. AFSCME has been in contract negotiations with the UC system since 2017.
“The way to a deal is at the bargaining table—not on the picket lines—and should not come at the expense of patients, students, the University, and our communities,” said Gordon. “We will do everything we can to limit the strike’s negative impact.”
A 2018 report released by AFSCME found that Black women and people of color are disproportionately affected by UC outsourcing. As contracted employees, they are paid 53% less than UC employees. The report also shows that African American workers are at a higher risk of involuntary displacement.
The union previously striked in May 2018 and October 2018 against outsourcing and in support of a new labor agreement. In April, AFSCME also striked after filling ULP complaints against the UC system for alleged labor law violations. That complaint focused on worker intimidation during previous labor strikes.
AFSCME has received notable support from commencement speakers who withdrew in solidarity with the union. Most recently, the Democratic National Committee canceled its plans to host the next Democratic presidential primary debate at UCLA, citing concerns brought to them by organized labor.
Mo Al Elew is a senior staff writer for The Triton. You can follow him @SoloMune.