All AFSCME workers deserve contracts

UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS: Giving AFSCME service workers contracts allows them to continue to positively impact the university

Illustration of line of people waiting for contracts
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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The UC system’s fragmented relationship with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 Union, or AFSCME Local 3299 has long been a source of contention that has resulted in strikes demanding more workers’ rights. There are 24,000 AFSCME Local 3299 California workers who contribute to ensuring students a quality education across 10 campuses every day, but not all of them have the workers’ rights they deserve.

Although AFSCME’s recent tentative agreement with the university gives only service workers a contract, it is a step in the right direction. With that said, the UC system should have already established a contract to further prohibit outsourcing and compensate the dedicated AFSCME workers.

There are a couple of positive aspects to this new contract. It will cover AFSCME’s service workers, who are expected to receive a 3% wage increase over the span of four years, along with pension benefits. Additionally, the university will prohibit contracting out workers, which ultimately means increased job security for thousands of workers who can now lean on workplace policies that better support their everyday lives. After three years of negotiations between workers and the university, the new employee benefits will hopefully set a precedent that will outline future contracts for AFSCME Local 3299 workers who are waiting to receive contracts.

The university has a checkered history with enforcing its own policies. A 2017 state audit exposed the UC system’s failure to comply with its own policies for displacing employees in favor of contractors. Other subsequent internal reports highlighted a failure to enforce minimum wage policies for outside contract workers. While this agreement seems promising, an agreement is only worth something if it is properly enforced.

The university’s no-strike clause in the new contract is a prominent issue that will impact union organization. Article 22, titled “No Strikes,” explicitly prohibits these contracted workers from any form of striking, including sympathy strikes. Therefore, a no-strike clause’s inclusion in the new contract directly stops AFSCME service workers from engaging in protests that would help other workers in the union gain a contract. Consequently, the union’s carefully crafted division is a result of the university’s knowledge of the strength that comes with numbers.

It has taken the university three years to establish a contract that will affect only a subset of AFSCME Local 3299 workers, so the road ahead for forging contracts with the remaining workers remains largely uncertain. Though sedimenting contracts for all AFSCME Local 3299 workers will be costly for the university, it needs to finally acknowledge that every worker from a truck driver to a nurse’s aid deserves a contract so that they can continue to positively impact university operations.

Whether or not AFSCME Local 3299 service workers ratify this contract Thursday, it is still a tremendous victory to finally gain the recognition they have been fighting for since the 1980s.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.