NEARLY 40,000 WORKERS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA (UC) WENT OUT ON A 24-HOUR STRIKE MARCH 20.
The strike, which took place at all 10 campuses and 5 medical centers affiliated with the UC system, is the largest strike of 2019 to date, thanks to the significant number of solidarity strikers.
The strike was called by the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), CWA 9119, which represents 10,000 research and technical workers. Joining them in a solidarity strike were 5,000 health care workers also represented by UPTE, as well as 27,000 patient care and service workers represented by UC’s largest union, AFSCME 3299. All three groups of workers are currently working without a contract. Both unions have been in negotiations with UC for 22 months.
On the UC-Berkeley campus Wednesday, hundreds of striking cooks, custodians, gardeners, stage hands, social workers, lab techs and other workers picketed, often in pouring rain, in front of the university’s main entrance.
Their rain-soaked picket signs read, “UC for the Many, Not for the Few,” and picketers could be heard chanting “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white!”
Like thousands of other striking educational workers this year, the UC workers’ strike raised concerns about how the privatization of education and the outsourcing of jobs drives deep race, class and gender inequalities for educational workers and the students, patients and communities they serve.
AFSCME 3299 Executive Director Liz Perlman, speaking to In These Times from the UCLA medical center picket line, explained, “There’s a shadow workforce of thousands of workers who are paid half of what directly employed UC workers make, and who get no benefits, no health care, and have to rely on the state to survive. These workers are doing the exact same work, cleaning the exact same toilets, side by side our members for years at a time.”
“The university is increasingly relying on those workers so they can use the money they save to reward those at the top. These workers—much like our members—are immigrants, people of color, and black and brown women who are the anchor in their family. When they are exploited, it exploits the entire community,” continued Perlman.
In 2017, the California State Auditor found that the UC Office of the President was paying exorbitant salaries to top-level executives and had failed to disclose $175 million in budgetary reserves, trashed by many in the media as a secret slush fund for administrators’ pet projects. At the the time of the report, UC had proposed a 3 percent hike in student tuition and was increasingly outsourcing once-career pathway jobs to private corporations that pay workers less.
According to a press release by UPTE, to try to curb this subcontracting and to defend full-time, living wage jobs, the union is demanding: “No more contracting out of University work to private companies, overtime-pay after 8 hours like other California workers, a path to full-time career positions, and no cuts to benefits.”
Multiple calls to the UC public affairs office for comment were not returned by the time this was published.
Vermont Senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders spoke in support of striking workers at the UC-Los Angeles campus on Wednesday. Workers were expected back at work today.
“Workers went back to work today feeling strong about yesterday and inspired by being joined in Los Angeles by Bernie Sanders,” said Dan Russell, IT worker at UC Berkeley and Executive Vice President of UPTE, on March 21. “His presence helped reinforce that we’re part of a nationwide movement against inequality and that we are on the right side of this struggle.”
Here are some of the faces and voices of union members and their allies on the picket line at the UC Berkeley campus yesterday.