Service and patient-care workers union, UC negotiate through strike authorization vote

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The University of California and the union that represents its service and patient-care workers negotiated into the night Wednesday as the second day of the union’s strike authorization vote came to an end.
Although the offers of the two groups came closer to an agreement during weekend bargaining, the results of the strike authorization vote — which come out Friday morning — could throw a wrench into these negotiations.

The university’s offer on wage increases remains 3 to 4.5 percent below the union’s proposal of 14.5 percent in across-the-board increases over four years. Union service workers make an average of about $36,000 per year, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

For service workers, contracting out work by the university — bringing in nonunion workers — also remains an issue. For patient-care workers, who are negotiating with the university separately, there is still disagreement over how temporary employees transition to becoming full-time workers.

The strike authorization vote began Tuesday and ends Thursday. The approximately 8,300 service workers would be the primary strikers should the union vote swing in that direction, while the approximately 13,000 patient-care workers might sympathy strike.

Such a strike would likely impact all the UC campuses and medical centers. UC Berkeley currently has about 800 union-affiliated employees, according to Kathryn Lybarger, the union’s president.

“I think we’re going to see a very strong vote from our membership saying, ‘Yeah, we’ll authorize the bargaining team to call a strike,’ ” Lybarger said.

The union has been negotiating with the university for more than a year and called strikes in May and November of 2013.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the two strikes cost a combined $30 million due to issues such as rescheduling surgeries and hiring temporary workers at the medical centers. Even the authorization of a strike, Klein said, would require the university to spend tens of thousands of dollars on preparations.

In return for a higher wage offer, Klein said, the university asked the union to call off the strike vote and instead consider the UC system’s proposal. She said the members were voting to strike without really understanding the offer on the table.

Union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse, however, said members are kept extremely well informed about the negotiations.

Some groups and individuals have come out in support of the union’s position. Student Regent Cinthia Flores said she supported the strike but hoped the university and union could reach an agreement before it takes place.

The Council of UC Faculty Associations released a statement Tuesday supporting the union in the labor dispute, saying the university needed to offer staffing protections to “bring down unacceptable injury rates amongst service workers.”

“The university is a kind of ecosystem,” said Patricia Morton, president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations. “The intellectual work we do has probably the most prestige, but we simply couldn’t operate without the people who clean the buildings.”

Contact Daniel Tutt and Taryn Smith at [email protected].