Much like middle-class jobs, affordable college tuition and Polaroid pictures, seeing a workers’ strike often feels like a relic of days past. Perhaps this is why when our campus’s graduate students took to the picket line Wednesday to stand with the university’s striking service workers, much of the student body looked on in mild confusion.
The strike, at its core, was a display of solidarity with UC medical-care workers who allege widespread managerial misconduct on the part of the university. According to documents filed in June by AFSCME 3299, the union representing UC service workers, the problem is pervasive. The union alleges that managers intimidated employees over attempts earlier this year to strike and that other officials threatened disciplinary action to those who participated in an “unauthorized” strike.
The university believes differently. Its response to the complaint was a categorical denial. In its telling, the misconduct is unproven, and the strike was unwarranted. Shortly before the strike, a university statement contended even the “threat” of the strike had already harmed patients. The university argues that it has negotiated in good faith and that the strike only caused further problems.
Even though the university is innocent until proven otherwise, the nature of the allegations is troubling. Should the university be found guilty, it would mean there is an institutionwide fair-labor-practice problem.
And while the strike was critical in drawing attention and inspiring sympathy for the workers, it did not come without a cost. Strikes, by their very character, are designed to suspend services in order to draw attention to problems facing workers. According to a UC statement sent before the strike, suspension of services meant surgeries were rescheduled, and some patients were unable to receive important care.
Wednesday was also Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day meant to commemorate lives lost to transphobic acts of violence. The transgender community, among the most marginalized in our society, gets few opportunities to make its voice heard widely. Transgender people are victims of violence and discrimination at a rate far higher than gay and lesbian communities, and they are often ignored or mischaracterized by the media. By striking on a day meant to commemorate transgender victims of violence, solidarity with the workers came at the expense of further publicizing the prejudice transgender individuals face around the world.
While we have to wait and see as to the veracity of the allegations, both the university and the workers should judge how they publicly move forward more carefully. The attention this issue draws comes at the cost of others.