State of the unions: A history of UC-affiliated union actions since January 2019

People holding speakers and protesting with signs with one of them saying "we want to be heard"
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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On May 16, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 the union that represents service workers such as custodians, transportation and basic support services workers, nurses and patient technical care employees — went on a systemwide strike to protest the outsourcing of UC jobs to Kindred and Aya Healthcare. 

Representing more than 24,000 employees, AFSCME Local 3299 is the largest union in the UC system. It was joined by the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119 union, or UPTE-CWA. The two unions represent the bulk of unionized nonacademic professionals employed by the UC, excluding doctors, physicians and police officers.

According to AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson John de los Angeles, the union worried that workers would receive lower salaries and fewer benefits as a result of the UC’s decision to outsource their jobs, even though the UC maintained that no jobs would be lost. This was the third time AFSCME Local 3299 and UPTE-CWA had participated in a strike since the beginning of 2019.

UPTE-CWA held its first strike of the year March 21, which followed a “final deal” offered to the union by the UC that UPTE-CWA did not accept. According to UPTE-CWA, the deal also cut pensions, and the wage increase was only half of what was offered to California Nurses Association members at the UC. AFSCME Local 3299 went on strike in solidarity with UPTE-CWA in an effort to highlight that neither union had a contract. About 100 out of the more than 1,600 people represented by both unions in Berkeley took part in the protest on campus.

The second strike by AFSCME Local 3299 on April 10 was about unfair labor practice charges filed by AFSCME Local 3299 against the UC in March alleging a culture of intimidation throughout the UC system. AFSCME Local 3299 pointed to an instance of alleged physical assault toward protesting workers by a UC Davis manager as a more extreme case of such intimidation.

The Public Employment Relations Board has yet to release a decision on any of the unfair labor practice charges filed by AFSCME Local 3299; UPTE-CWA and AFSCME Local 3299 both remain without contracts.

The UC credits AFSCME Local 3299 for its continued lack of contract. According to UC Office of the President spokesperson Claire Doan in April, the UC made numerous proposals to the union since its last contract expired in 2017, none of which were brought to member vote by union leaders.

“Their rallying cry is ‘fairness,’ and yet they want raises that are nearly twice or triple that of other UC employees,” Doan said in an email in April. “It’s unfortunate that the low member participation during last week’s strike has not persuaded AFSCME leaders to pursue an approach that would actually help workers: real, good-faith bargaining.”

The unions offer a different point of view.

According to de los Angeles in May, the UC has “bypassed its workers at every turn.”

“We reached a state of impasse, and at that point, we can no longer find bargaining useful at the table,” said Tobirus Newby, a member of UPTE-CWA, in March. UPTE-CWA has refused to accept a proposal after 17 meetings with the UC.

On Feb. 6, UC Berkeley graduate students from United Automobile Workers Local 2865, aka the UC Student-Workers Union, delivered a letter with demands regarding the implementation of the new payment system for graduate students at UC Berkeley. The system, called UCPath, led to reports of missing paychecks at other UC campuses, and ultimately to a protest at UC Riverside led by the union on Feb. 21. On March 31, when UCPath was launched at UC Berkeley, the university agreed to pay a fee for any late payments as a result of the new program, which was one of the demands in the letter. 

Academic Researchers United/UAW Local 5810 formed just nine months earlier and held a rally June 26 amid its first negotiation.

On April 1, the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, a union that represents librarians and lecturers, agreed to a new contract with the UC — all assistants and associates received an initial 8.6 percent wage increase, and librarians received a 5.6 percent wage increase and an annual 3 percent increase for the next five years. 

The agreement was approved by 98 percent of UC-AFT members, and according to Martin Brennan, a UC-AFT member, in April, the agreement was “very strong” for librarians.

On May 1, UC-AFT held a rally to raise awareness for issues facing lecturers, and UC-AFT held a gathering June 19 during negotiations to help bring attention to issues the organization wants to be covered in its upcoming contract. Teamsters Local 2010, which represents clerical employees, and whose 2017 contract agreement carries the union into 2022, has not been active since January 2019.

Contact Lev Gordon-Feierabend at [email protected].