Over 15,000 UC health care workers could soon go on strike — here’s what we know

AFSCME Local 3299 announced Thursday morning that the 15,000 patient-care technical workers in its ranks voted to authorize a strike against the University of California after reaching a deadlock in labor contract negotiations.

The strike vote received approval from 96 percent of AFSCME 3299 members, AFSCME leaders said, and the patient-care workers will be joined on the picket line by 9,000 employees in AFSCME’s service unit and 15,000 members of the UPTE-CWA union, who voted to join in solidarity.

“For over a year, we’ve raised concerns over the University’s growing efforts to outsource jobs to contracting companies that pay workers less with little to no benefits,” stated Monica De Leon, vice president of AFSCME Local 3299’s patient-care technical unit. “We believe it’s a major driver of inequality here at UC.”

The strike dates have not yet been set. The union is required to provide a 10-day advance notification of the dates.

In a prepared statement, UC leaders said: “Union leaders refuse to allow their own members to vote on UC’s competitive contract offer, instead spending months threatening and now conducting a strike vote. Rather than engage in constructive talks at the negotiating table, AFSCME leaders are using the threat of a strike as a scare tactic.”

In prior statements, the UC has said that its contract with AFSCME permits it to subcontract existing service work, except if the sole reason for doing so is to save money on employee wages and benefits.

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AFSCME employees are compensated at or above market wages, sometimes as much as 17 percent higher than prevailing wages for workers in the same occupations, UC leaders said after AFSCME 3299 service workers announced a strike in May. AFSCME was joined in that job action by roughly 29,000 UC workers statewide from the California Nurses Association and the UPTE-CWA unions.

The nurses have since negotiated a new contract with the UC and cannot join in upcoming job actions. UPTE-CWA represents research, health-care professionals and technical employees on university campuses and medical centers, and like AFSCME Local 3299, all three units have been in prolonged negotiations with the UC. Roughly 97 percent of UPTE-CWA members voted to authorize the sympathy strike.

Earlier this month, the UC began paying a 2 percent wage increase to workers in the patient-care technical bargaining unit. It also imposed terms for health-care and retirement benefits. The university made the same move with AFSCME 3299’s service workers ahead of the May strike.

UC leaders, in Thursday’s prepared statement, said that the May strike already cost service workers several thousand dollars’ worth of pay increases, limits on health insurance costs and other benefits. They also said they would “do everything possible to limit the negative impact of a strike — and AFSCME leaders’ predictable theatrics — on our campuses and medical centers.”

In a prepared news release, AFSCME leaders said the terms will raise health care premiums by as much as 61 percent and lift the retirement age by 5 years.

“UC is trying to force workers to get by with much less than what’s necessary to provide for our families,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “By shortchanging workers, UC is also shortchanging the students, patients, and communities who depend on us. The University is demanding less security and more inequality for tens of thousands of its workers, and that is completely at odds with its promise to ‘pioneer a better future’ for California.”

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