Strike authorized among service and patient-care workers

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After three days of voting, the union representing the University of California’s service and patient-care workers announced Friday it has authorized a strike with 96 percent support.

About 8,300 service workers would be the primary strikers, with more than 13,000 patient-care workers striking in sympathy. Both groups are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. With the vote, the union bargaining team can now call a strike and set a date for it, although a strike has not yet been called.

“From our perspective, nothing has changed,” said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein. “They have not called for a strike, and our offer is still on the table.”

Last week, Klein said even authorizing a strike would be a financial burden on the university and could lead it to rescind its offer.

If the strike is called, the preparations would cost the university tens of thousands of dollars, Klein said. Union strikes in May and November of last year cost the university $30 million, she added.

On Thursday, the university’s vice president of human resources, Dwaine Duckett, sent out a letter to union employees in which he said, “We have urged AFSCME to let you vote on these offers instead of asking you to support another costly strike, which will cost about $10 million each day it goes on.”

Union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse calls these costs a “self-inflicted wound.”

“What’s at stake here is not just issues of fairness and income inequality but basic issues of safety,” Stenhouse said. “Our members had information about the UC offers when they voted, and they spoke with an overwhelming majority.”

The union and university have been negotiating for more than a year. Their wage offers during the vote differed by between 3 percent and 4.5 percent total over the contract’s four-year term. Certain staffing issues, such as the contracting out of work and how temporary workers can transition into full-time employees, also remain unresolved.

“We had hoped they would call off the authorization vote, but they went through with it,” Klein said. “A strike benefits nobody.”

Still, during the vote, some groups and individuals came 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, and the president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, Patricia Morton, said “(faculty) simply couldn’t operate without the people who clean the buildings,” in a Wednesday interview.

Klein said the university and union were planning to meet again, but a date for the bargaining hasn’t yet been set. In a union statement, the bargaining team said it was willing to negotiate around the clock.

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