UC employee union files unfair labor charges against university

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The UC system’s largest employee union — American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Local 3299 — filed three separate Unfair Labor Practice charges in late April alleging that the UC is taking part in negotiations to replace its employees with low-wage workers contracted by outsourcing companies.

According to a press release released Thursday, AFSCME Local 3299, which represents more than 25,000 service and patient care technical workers at UC campuses and properties, is considering pursuing further action through its Unfair Labor Practice committee to address the UC system’s failure to involve current employees in negotiation discussions, as is required by California law.

AFSCME spokesperson John de los Angeles said the university has entered an agreement with Kindred Healthcare in an attempt to convert patient-care technical work positions into contracted positions. He said UC also negotiated a statewide agreement with the staffing firm Aya Healthcare, which can provide access to $150 million of contract labor annually. He added that the UC system is accepting proposals that can provide university affiliates, such as the California State University system and the California Community Colleges system, with outsourced labor contracts.

De los Angeles said the university has been made aware of these charges, but the union has not heard from them. He said the charges are based on “well-founded issues” that raise concerns about whether or not outsourcing is creating more income inequality within the UC system, which is the third-largest employer in California.

“While the official legal violation is the failure to meet and confer with its workers … the charges seem to highlight the extent of the radical privatization scheme that is going to fundamentally alter the university’s relationship with its workers,” de los Angeles said.

University spokesperson Claire Doan said the university is confident that its service-contract practices align with university policy, collective bargaining agreements and state law.

Doan added that from 2013 to 2018, the union grew by 17 percent, adding 3,626 more workers for a total of 24,979.

“This recent maneuver follows a host of tactics by AFSCME to gain leverage against the university, including four systemwide strikes in the past year, and calling on a speakers boycott of graduation ceremonies, in an attempt to advance their self-interested agenda at the expense of students and families,” Doan said in an email.

De los Angeles said these charges are separate from the union strikes in May and October 2018, which were economic strikes dealing with issues at “the bargaining table,” as well as the recent unfair labor strike in April.

De los Angeles added that the university claims the recent charges brought by AFSCME are only about wages and benefits.

“They like to pit that fact against students and their tuition, but this is about something much more fundamental than that — this is about job security,” de los Angeles said. “What good is a wage, what good is a benefit if the university is allowed to outsource that job?”

De los Angeles said contract employees are also affected by these practices because they are paid low wages without benefits and are not guaranteed job security.

According to the press release, in 2015, federal authorities began investigating claims of violations of basic labor standards affecting outsourced workers on campus, including allegations of wage theft. The press release cited a state audit report and UC internal audits, which have shown that outsourcing efforts are displacing employees and marginalizing women and people of color.

According to Doan, UC cannot terminate any AFSCME-represented employee who is displaced because of a subcontracting decision. She added that university agreements with the union prevent it from “contracting out” to save on wages and benefits.

“This is not just about UC’s serial lawbreaking, but its efforts to eliminate the last remaining middle-class careers in California,” AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said in the press release. “Neither our patients, students, families or communities are being well served by a publicly financed race to the bottom.

According to Doan, the UC system pays AFSCME patient-care and service workers at or above market rates, which include health insurance and retirement benefits, and she added that the university cannot justify to its taxpayers an “excessive” raise in employee wages.

AFSCME is asking for an 8 percent annual raise for all of its units, while other UC employees average at most a 3 percent raise every year, Doan said in an email. She added that an AFSCME employee now earns, on average, 21 percent more in wages than 5 years ago.

De los Angeles said that within the last year, university chancellors have received a 3 percent raise, which can often be as much as $25,000.

“The university says any further compensation to its workers would come to the detriment of taxpayers and students, but what about these raises for your administrative class — is that to the detriment of taxpayers and students? Because I think it is, and I think it is more so,” de los Angeles said.

Contact Vanessa Arredondo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @V_anana.