University of California service & patient care workers strike over illegal outsourcing
Marilyn Bechtel / PW

BERKELEY, Calif.—Chants of “Whose University? Our University!” rang out across the entire University of California system Nov. 13 as over 25,000 service and patient care workers represented by AFSCME Local 3299 hit the picket line in an Unfair Labor Practices strike affecting all 10 UC campuses and five Medical Centers around the state.

Since the service workers’ contract expired in June 2017 and the patient care workers’ contract expired six months later, the workers have been locked in a struggle with the university over extensive outsourcing of service and patient care work and other job security issues, along with wages and health care costs. The latest strike was the sixth since the contract expired.

Occupations of Local 3299 members include security guards, groundskeepers, cooks, custodians, truck drivers, and patient care technical workers. The majority are people of color and women.

Late last month the union filed six new charges with California’s Public Employment Relations Board over UC’s extensive and unlawful contracting out of jobs generally done by union workers to lower-wage outside contractors. The union says UC has been circumventing legal disclosure and bargaining requirements as well as the university’s own competitive bidding and minimum wage policies.

Local 3299 says that according to documents filed with the California legislature, the university has increased its spending on outsourcing of service and patient care jobs by as much as 52% since 2016—nearly three times the growth rate for direct employment in similar jobs.

Here at UC Berkeley, a lively noontime rally brought hundreds of students, faculty, and members of other campus unions together with the service workers to demand an end to the outsourcing.

Local 3299 Executive Board member and senior custodian Maricruz Manzanarez told the crowd, “Today we are out here because as you all know, once again the university is breaking the law, outsourcing our jobs, going behind our backs and expanding contracts with companies who replace our workers – Shame!”

She emphasized that the contract workers are not the problem, the fault lies with the companies that hire them and with the university. “It’s about time for the university to start working with the union to protect our job security. We want to have a future here and we are not going anywhere!”

Calling attention to the series of strikes at the university, Kathryn Lybarger, Local 3299’s president, declared, “Every change that’s been good for working people in this country has come from the magic that communities like ours build together, planning and resisting and dreaming and winning the world we need for ourselves and our children … I know we are going to win, and this is what a group of victors looks like!”

Lester Howard, a truck driver at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a member of the local’s bargaining team, said the problem lies with UC’s view that “because they are the University of California, they can do whatever they want to whoever they want. The bottom line: it’s about control. They want to say who they can hire, who they can fire, how much they can charge students for their education.”

AFSCME Local 3299 Executive Board member Maricruz Manzanarez addressing the strikers and supporters during a noontime rally on the UC Berkeley campus. | Marilyn Bechtel / PW

Dean, a third-year undergraduate student, said UC “treats this institution like they are the owners, like students are the customers, and lecturers and service workers are employees who have to fight for every little concession the administration wants to give. It’s not budgets or policy, it’s power – we need to stand up and tell the university it’s not owned by the administration, it’s ours!”

Professor Khalid Kadir, of UC AFT Local 1474, told the crowd, “I want to speak specifically to my colleagues and to my students, and maybe to those administrators who don’t listen too well—we share this space together, but we don’t share it equally. Some people get salaries of half a million dollars, others can’t pay their rent. That’s not fair, not just, and we need to press this university to see the ways they benefit from the exploitation of others.”

Among the new Unfair Labor Practices complaints Local 3299 has filed are allegations UC has entered or renewed at least 25 contracts with outsourcing companies and then expanded the terms and scope of many of them without notifying or bargaining with affected UC workers, unilaterally exempted itself from its own competitive bidding rules, evaded internal rules to stop outsourcing, and refused to fill vacant staff positions to maintain and repair medical equipment in order to outsource the work to private vendors.

The union also calls attention to recent research findings that black women and other people of color are disproportionately impacted by outsourcing, are paid significantly less than white men doing similar jobs, and face a higher risk of involuntary job displacement, with their share of UC’s direct service and patient care jobs having dropped by 37% between 1996 and 2015.


CONTRIBUTOR

Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for the People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.

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