Union members allege coercion by UC as strike vote looms

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As the threat of a strike loomed on the horizon, the University of California and the union representing its patient-care and service workers entered their last scheduled day of bargaining Friday prior to a strike authorization vote planned for Tuesday.

The university has said it will rescind its current offer to the patient-care workers — which includes a 2 percent total additional increase in wages for workers over the contract’s four-year term — if a strike is authorized, a move the union has alleged is unlawful.

The union’s attorney sent a letter Tuesday to the university demanding it “immediately withdraw the offending threat” and reasserting allegations that the university has coerced union members.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the university was prepared to negotiate into the night. Still, the union considers the university’s offer “second class” compared to offers made with its other unions, while Klein calls the offer “a very fair deal.”

The legal issue stems from the separation between the service workers and the patient-care workers, all of whom are bargaining independently with the university yet are represented under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

The union alleges that, because the service workers are the primary strikers, for the university to withdraw its offer of wage increases for the patient-care workers would be a violation of fair labor practices.

The union has been negotiating with the university since October 2012 and called two strikes last year in May and November. They still have not come to agreement on wages and disagree on pay for missed breaks, the procedure for converting temporary workers into career employees and the ability to contract out jobs, among other issues.

While it might normally be unlawful for an employer to condition its offers to one bargaining group based on the actions of another, there is a possibility it will be allowed if couched as a budgetary issue, according to David Rosenfeld, a lecturer specializing in labor relations at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

“We have not threatened AFSCME,” Klein said. “What we have asked is that they let their membership vote on our offer and that they don’t continue with their strike vote. If they even authorized a strike, it would cost the UC tens of thousands of dollars to prepare.”

It is this financial burden that could lead the university to rescind its offer, Klein said.

Union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse, however, sees this incident as a pattern, pointing to union allegations that the university coerced workers during the May strike. The California Public Employment Relations Board is investigating these allegations.

If unable to come to a consensus with the university, the union plans to take a strike vote Tuesday through Thursday.

Daniel Tutt covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.