Union authorizes strike in wake of alleged intimidation of workers

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The University of California’s largest union authorized a strike Friday in response to claims that some of its workers were intimidated before and during a strike in May.

The union, American Federation of State, County Municipal Employees 3299, alleges that managers attempted to illegally threaten or coerce patient-care and service workers multiple times when they chose to strike after the two parties reached an impasse during contract negotiations. An overwhelming 96 percent of union members voted in support of authorizing the strike, according to the union’s press release.

The alleged threats include managers asking employees whether they were planning to participate in the strike, according to Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME 3299.

The union’s unfair labor practices committee will deliberate a date and duration for the strike. If the university addresses the union’s demands, however, a strike can be avoided. According to Todd Stenhouse, AFSCME 3299 communications director, the union has to give the university 10 days’ advance notice of a strike.

“I think we are all watchdogs when we are standing up for safety,” Stenhouse said. “If people don’t stand up when there is a problem, you are putting people at risk.”

AFSCME 3299 and the university have three bargaining sessions scheduled for this week, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

“We are hopeful that AFSCME leaders come to the sessions to bargain in good faith, as we have done,” Klein said in an email. “A strike authorization vote doesn’t mean that there will be a strike. There is a chance to avoid this conflict, and we hope that happens.”

The California Public Employment Relations Board, a state agency that oversees collective bargaining for California public schools, filed a formal complaint in response to the allegations on behalf of AFSCME 3299 and has begun an investigation into the claims.

Attorneys representing the university denied the union’s allegations, calling them “preposterous … disingenuous and hypocritical” in a letter to the California Public Employment Relations Board.

Lybarger also alleged that the intimidation of workers stifled their ability to express safety concerns, which include a shortage of staff and an increasing number of temporary workers in the hospitals who are less familiar with procedures and practices.

“That is why it is not so surprising to see our members support a strike on that matter,” Stenhouse said. “There is something very important and very big at stake here.”

AFSCME 3299 represents more than 22,000 service and patient-care workers across the UC system’s 10 campuses, five medical centers and multiple clinics and laboratories.

According to the press release, the union has formed a Patient Protection Task Force to handle emergency needs to protect its patients in the hospitals in the event of a strike.

Contact Michelaina Johnson at [email protected].