50,000 University of California Workers Are Still on Strike. One Key Reason: Outsourcing.

Sarah Lahm May 9, 2018

In mid-April, 97 percent of AFSCME Local 3299 members voted to authorize the strike. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

On the heels of pub­lic sec­tor union walk­outs in West Vir­ginia, Ken­tucky, Okla­homa and Ari­zona, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia employ­ees are now out on a three day strike, cit­ing con­cerns over out­sourc­ing as well as insuf­fi­cient pay and ben­e­fit increas­es. The strik­ing UC employ­ees are mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, Coun­ty and Munic­i­pal Employ­ees (AFSCME) Local 3299

In mid-April, 97 per­cent of AFSCME Local 3299 mem­bers vot­ed to autho­rize the strike after receiv­ing what the union says is an insult­ing” con­tract set­tle­ment offer from UC offi­cials. Cur­rent­ly, there are over UC work­ers on strike at cam­pus­es across the state. These work­ers include main­te­nance and food ser­vice work­ers, as well as UC hos­pi­tal staffers.

Scott Gilliam has been an inter­ven­tion­al angiog­ra­ph­er at UCLA’s Rea­gan Med­ical Cen­ter for 18 years, where he helps treat and diag­nose dis­ease in con­nec­tion to blood ves­sels. In a phone con­ver­sa­tion from the pick­et lines, Gilliam tells In These Times that he joined the walk­out because he is fed up with UC offi­cials not address­ing key labor issues, includ­ing inequal­i­ty. For Gilliam, what that looks like is outsourcing.

In all depart­ments across UC,” Gilliam says, admin­is­tra­tors are try­ing to save mon­ey by tak­ing jobs from us.” While he hasn’t direct­ly expe­ri­enced out­sourc­ing, Gilliam says he’s seen many nurs­es sub­ject­ed to the prac­tice. In a recent arti­cle in UCLA’s Dai­ly Bru­in news­pa­per, nurse Lucia Brandt sim­i­lar­ly stat­ed that UC nurs­es are being replaced by per diem” staff who are hired on a day-to-day basis at dif­fer­ent hospitals.”

Brandt called the hospital’s push to out­source nurs­es not only a sign of dis­re­spect” for cur­rent employ­ees, but also a threat to their cen­tral mis­sion: pro­vid­ing safe and con­sis­tent patient care. As a show of sol­i­dar­i­ty, mem­bers of the Cal­i­for­nia Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion have joined AFSCME 3299 mem­bers on the pick­et lines.

John de los Ange­les, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for AFSCME Local 3299, agrees that out­sourc­ing is a major issue at play in the cur­rent walk­out. De los Ange­les tells In These Times that state audi­tor Elaine Howle recent­ly cit­ed the UC sys­tem for the use and mis­use of out­sourced work­ers. UC calls them tem­po­rary work­ers,” de los Ange­les says, stat­ing that some of these tem­po­rary” work­ers have been employed by the UC sys­tem for 20 years — which he calls a strat­e­gy to avoid pay­ing ben­e­fits and liv­ing wage jobs.

UC has been active­ly hir­ing con­tract work­ers over direct­ly employed work­ers sim­ply because they are cheap­er,” de los Ange­les states, not­ing that this has result­ed in the dis­place­ment of large amounts of work­ers.” Howle’s 2017 report looked at 31 con­tracts between UC and its work­ers from 2011 – 2016. One of her key find­ings was that in 2016, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cis­co out­sourced the IT work of over fifty con­tract­ed employ­ees on the premise that such an effort would save the school mil­lions of dollars.

Yet admin­is­tra­tors did not keep tabs on the cost-sav­ings and also could not show whether or not they had fol­lowed prop­er state guide­lines for the out­sourc­ing of jobs. Although UC offi­cials stat­ed, for exam­ple, that out­sourc­ing jobs saved the ten-cam­pus sys­tem $269 mil­lion in 2015 – 2016 alone, Howle’s team of audit inves­ti­ga­tors could find no evi­dence to sup­port $109 mil­lion of the claim.” Howle also found that UC offi­cials were short­chang­ing low-wage con­tract employ­ees on salaries and ben­e­fits by pay­ing them far less than their UC counterparts.

Janet Napoli­tano, cur­rent pres­i­dent of the UC sys­tem, acknowl­edged in the wake of Howle’s report that the find­ings were accu­rate, but told reporters that work­ers hired after 2015 are now being paid com­pa­ra­ble wages. Still, many out­sourced UC staffers have described unfair and unsafe work­ing con­di­tions, as well as wage theft, abuse” and an over­all under­min­ing of work­ers’ rights.

But de los Ange­les says that UC offi­cials will not even acknowl­edge that out­sourc­ing is a prob­lem, and instead have pub­licly worked to keep the con­ver­sa­tion around boil­er­plate labor issues such as wages and ben­e­fits. Claire Doan, spokesper­son for the UC President’s Office, has towed a hard line towards strik­ing work­ers in the media, telling the Los Ange­les Times that the walk­out has done noth­ing but “‘hurt the care we pro­vide our patients and the ser­vices for our students.’”

Doan has also char­ac­ter­ized AFSCME Local 3299’s demands as an unre­al­is­tic pitch for “‘exces­sive rais­es and ben­e­fits’” and insists that the UC offer of a three per­cent annu­al wage increase over the next four years is com­pa­ra­ble to what oth­er UC employ­ees receive. De los Ange­les, how­ev­er, is quick to point out that giv­ing a 3 per­cent pay increase to one of UC’s top-lev­el admin­is­tra­tors who already earns a six-fig­ure salary is far dif­fer­ent than pro­vid­ing the same three per­cent raise to a low-wage worker.

One UC chan­cel­lor, Samuel Haw­good of the San Fran­cis­co cam­pus, saw his pay jump in 2017 from $795,675 to just under $820,000, thanks to UC’s three per­cent pay raise pol­i­cy. Our work­ers have trou­ble keep­ing up with the cost of liv­ing,” de los Ange­les says,” while top admin­is­tra­tors are get­ting rais­es beyond what most would con­sid­er fair.”

Sarah Lahm is a Min­neapo­lis-based writer and for­mer Eng­lish Instruc­tor. She is a 2015 Pro­gres­sive mag­a­zine Edu­ca­tion Fel­low and blogs about edu­ca­tion at bright​lights​mall​ci​ty​.com.
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