The UC system’s largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Local 3299, gathered on Sproul Plaza on the third and final day of its planned strike for better contract terms.
At the rally’s peak, there were about 200 protesters, with many beating drums and chanting “treat your workers like you should.” The union was striking for wage increases, benefit protections and job security, among other demands.
“I’m here (striking) because I’ve been working without a contract for quite a while,” said Kandy Piper, a campus service worker and member of AFSCME. “When you don’t have a contract, your job security is at risk, your safety in the job is at risk, your pension plan is at risk, all of it is at risk and if you don’t fight for it, no one else is going to fight.”
AFSCME Local 3299 was joined by two other unions — UPTE-CWA 9119, the UC’s union of technical and professional employees, and the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, the union for UC librarians and lecturers.
David Eifler, a campus environmental design librarian, previously told The Daily Californian that since UC librarians are without a contract with the UC for the first time in 35 years, they are no longer bound by a previous contract clause that barred employee strikes.
A statement provided by UC spokesperson Danielle Smith said AFSCME patient care and service workers are already compensated “at or above market rates” and are given affordable health insurance and generous retirement benefits. The statement added that AFSCME leaders’ “organized theatrics” do nothing to change the university’s stance on the union’s demands.
Piper claimed that the 2 percent wage increase for eligible employees implemented by the UC came alongside increases in health care costs.
“It is coming down to a pay decrease,” Piper said.
During the rally, other community members spoke of similar historical struggles against the UC system. Interns at the Multicultural Community Center spoke of the 1999 ethnic studies protests. Jovanka Beckles, a candidate for the Assembly District 15 seat, also spoke at Thursday’s rally and led the crowd in chants.
Smith said in an email that the UC system hopes to meet AFSCME at the bargaining table — the “only place where real progress can be made.”
“We’ve seen this show before,” Smith said in an email. “AFSCME leaders inflate strike participation numbers and, without any basis, claim victory despite the fact that they are no closer to a deal that will help their members.”
From time to time, a car would drive by and honk, prompting cheers from those gathered. There was also a raffle in which the winner received a piñata, and union members were served a lunch of rice, meat and beans.
“We owe the workers a lot — they’re the ones who clean up after us, they’re the ones who work in the Tang Center and take care of us, and they’re also just people who feed us in the dining halls,” said Iris Morrell, a campus junior attending the strike in solidarity.