Campus union workers stage 1-day walkout against university in sympathy with UCLA

Phillip Downey/File
Teamsters Local 2010 stage a protest in front of California Hall in August 2016 demanding living wages and greater pension benefits for UC workers.

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More than 100 UC Berkeley clerical, administrative and support staff employees staged a one-day walkout and formed picket lines Tuesday to protest the University of California’s contract negotiation practices and to stand in solidarity with UCLA skilled trades workers, who were also striking.

According to Joseph Meyer, a UC human resources employee and UC Berkeley strike organizer, thousands of union workers represented by Teamsters Local 2010 staged a walkout across all UC campuses and medical centers. Picketers gathered on roads near campus locations such as Boalt Law School and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from about 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to oppose what they called unfair labor practices.

“A great institution … should not only teach their students to the best of their ability, but also treat their workers with the respect and dignity they deserve,” Meyer said. “If we don’t come to work, the UC doesn’t run. We make (the) UC work.”

Campus career center worker and Teamsters action coordinator Juan Garcia said the event was a successful mobilization of membership despite the heavy rain and campus holiday. Garcia said he saw members of other campus unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 come out in support as well.

UC Berkeley students such as senior Kristian Kim, a member of the Student Labor Committee, also joined the picket lines to support Teamsters’ cause.

“It’s important for students and workers to stick together,” Kim said. “We don’t have a say in what the university’s priorities are. We have to fight to make sure our interests are represented by those who claim to represent the public.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that it was difficult to ascertain the impact the strike had on UC Berkeley, given that classes are not in session for another week. Gilmore added that senior employees would be expected to take on the additional clerical work should there be a significant shortage of workers.

A statement by UC Office of the President spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez reported that 80 percent of the approximately 12,000 clerical staff members represented by Teamsters still attended work Tuesday, but final numbers provided by census figures had yet to be calculated as of press time.

The UCOP statement also said a strike is “presumed to be unlawful” and “counterproductive to negotiations” while the parties are in the process of bargaining.

According to Meyer, however, because the demonstration was in opposition of unfair labor practices and a sympathy strike rather than a collective bargaining strike, the walkout was legal.

Teamsters has filed several unfair labor practice charges against the university, alleging that the university bargained with the union in bad faith, stalled negotiations and hindered members from attending bargaining sessions.

The university is still negotiating with Teamsters, Vazquez said in an earlier statement. He said the university was offering its employees an average of an 18 percent wage increase over the next six years, in addition to “excellent health care benefits and retirement options” and a $1,200 ratification bonus.

“We are offering our clerical employees guaranteed, market-competitive wage increases, good benefits and stability,” Vazquez said in the statement.We believe our proposals fairly recognize the skills and contributions of our clerical staff. We urge Teamsters leadership to finalize a new contract without further delay.”

Garcia alleged that the university’s clerical employee salary is around 20 percent behind market value when compared to private universities. Additionally, Meyer said the wage increases ranged from 12 to 18 percent, rather than an average 18 percent increase across the union.

Both Meyer and Garcia said there was a struggle for many UC employees to pay for rent or food on their current salaries. A study published by the Occidental College Urban and Environmental Policy Institute earlier in October found more than 70 percent of UC workers were food insecure.

“We don’t get paid enough to eat. We don’t get enough to live,” Meyer said. “Housing is rising, everything is rising, but our wages aren’t rising (enough to meet inflation).”

Garcia also said he hopes the new contracts will keep the employee contribution pension instead of switching to a 401k plan, as well as include guidelines to implement better working conditions and protection against workplace intimidation.

According to Meyer, negotiations began last April and were supposed to have been finished by the time contracts expired at the end of November. The university offered a proposal in September, which gave a half percent wage increase for all the workers, according to Meyer. When Teamsters countered it, Meyer alleged that the university gave them another proposal a week before the contract expiration date.

Should both parties fail to come to an agreement, Garcia and Meyer predicted further union action.

“UC needs to come back to the table and start bargaining with us in good faith and realize that we’re not going to be here and just lie down and be disrespected day after day,” Meyer said.

Contact Fionce Siow at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.