Health & Medicine

39,000 UC workers will strike again, protesting income gaps and job insecurity

A union representing 14,000 research, technical and health care workers at the University of California will go on strike March 20, labor leaders said Friday, because UC leaders are ignoring their concerns about job security, benefit erosion and income inequality.

Members of the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119 will not walk out alone. Roughly 25,000 service and patient care workers in AFSCME Local 3299 are also negotiating a new labor contract with the UC, and their leaders said they will honor the picket line and walk out in solidarity with UPTE-CWA.

“For nearly 2 years, UC has refused to recognize the value of its workers and has instead worked to worsen income inequality,” said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “Thousands of UC workers represented by UPTE-CWA recognize that the university’s efforts to flatten wages, cut benefits, and eliminate middle-class career pathways are hurting families, and our members are proud to strike with them in solidarity.”

University spokesperson Claire Doan issued a statement Friday, saying: “The university feels the way to a deal is at the bargaining table – not on the picket lines – and should not come at the expense of patients, students, the university, and our communities. We are disappointed with UPTE leadership, demanding unreasonable double-digit raises (16 to 22 percent over the proposed terms of the agreement) that are far beyond those given to other UC employees.”

The UC and AFSCME had recently returned to the bargaining table, but AFSCME leaders said it was important for them to support co-workers who had joined them on the picket line in October. UC leaders described the move as “disingenuous,” adding that this was proof that union negotiators are not truly engaging in the bargaining process.

The AFSCME bargaining team rejected the UC’s last, best and final offer in the fall and called a strike after UC leaders decided to go ahead with 2 percent cost-of-living increases and other contract terms.

The technical and research units of UPTE-CWA rejected the UC’s last, best and final offer in late February. The health care unit remains in negotiations but will hit the picket line in solidarity with their coworkers. The terms of the UC’s offer to UPTE-CWA included:

  • Annual wage increases of 3 percent from 2020-2023, plus raises of 3 percent in April and October of this year. In a sign of just how rancorous negotiations are, the two sides disagreed over the contract period. UPTE-CWA spokesperson Dan Russell said UC’s offer extends through only September 2022.
  • A one-time payment of $1,250 upon contract ratification.
  • A $25 cap on monthly health insurance premiums for the UC’s Kaiser and Health Net Blue & Gold plans.

“Since negotiations began in 2017, our offers have been fair and substantial, guaranteeing competitive wage increases and excellent benefits,” the UC statement said. “Meanwhile, UPTE leaders have neither presented a realistic counteroffer, nor have they let their members vote on UC’s proposals.”

UPTE-CWA’s members work in positions such as art therapists, case managers, audiologists, animal technicians, lab assistants, art models and pharmacists on the UC’s 10 campuses and five medical centers. They work alongside AFSCME 3299 members who occupy such jobs as admitting clerks, anesthesia technicians, MRI technologists, cooks, gardeners and security guards.

In the case of AFSCME 3299, many of its members work low-wage jobs, and they and UPTE-CWA remain incensed over the 2017 findings from the California State Auditor that UC’s Office of the President was paying exorbitant salaries to a number of executives and amassing a $175 million reserve fund kept secret from even its governing regents.

In one example of the pay disparities, the auditor noted that 10 top executives were paid a total of $3.7 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year, more than $700,000 over what their highest-paid state peers earned. The auditor recommended that the UC set targets for reducing some executive salaries, a step that the UC said it already had begun with compensation surveys in 2016.

In a response to the auditor’s report, UC President Janet Napolitano wrote that her office has practiced transparency in its budgeting process. She noted that the UC’s reserve fund was actually closer to $38 million and that $83 million of the monies the auditor had classified as reserve funds were restricted for use with certain programs and initiatives. Roughly $49 million were unrestricted funds committed to academic programs.

UPTE-CWA represents roughly 5,000 health care workers, 5,000 researchers and 5,000 technical workers, and about 2,700 of those workers have positions on the UC Davis campus and medical center.

“The front line research and technical workers represented by UPTE-CWA are a vital part of the team of dedicated professionals that run UC every day,” Lybarger said. “By shortchanging these employees, the university is eroding the quality of services that students and patients rely on and undermining the very principles of economic mobility that UC routinely professes in public.”

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.