Why over 30,000 UC health workers are on strike

For the next three days (October 23-25), over 15,000 University of California patient care technical workers with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 (AFSCME 3299) — the University of California’s largest employee union — will strike statewide. Roughly 24,000 sympathy strikers are planning to join them, according to the LA Times.  

The strike is related to negotiations between AFSCME 3299 and UC that have been ongoing for over a year and a half. The union asked for wage increases, benefit protections, job security, safe staffing, and for UC to address workplace discrimination.

The university announced employment terms in early October, which AFSCME rejected, saying the terms would “increase healthcare premiums, flatten wages, lift the retirement age, and risk the continued outsourcing of UC jobs.”

The union has also alleged that UC is engaging in union-busting tactics that violate state law. The University is defending its new terms, however. Its website states:

“As a public university system, we work to balance our responsibilities to students, faculty, staff, retirees and taxpayers. Unfortunately, AFSCME leadership has made wage, benefit and other demands that threaten that balance.”

The site also discourages striking, stating that it “will impact patients, students and other UC employees.” The university plans to keep its 10 campuses and five medical centers open and operating throughout the strike.

If this whole situation sounds familiar, it’s because the service-workers unit of AFSCME 3299 organized a similar strike just five months ago — the patient care technical unit supported them then, and now the roles have reversed. The service workers unit will be striking in solidarity this week, alongside healthcare professionals, researchers, and technical employees who are part of University Professional & Technical Employees-CWA 9119 (UPTE-CWA 9119), which is also involved in negotiations with UC.

One association will notably not be striking: the California Nurses Association (CNA). Similarly prolonged negotiations between UC and CNA came to an end last month, when the parties reached a tentative agreement.

The CNA asked for wage increases, boosted retirement benefits, workplace violence and sexual harassment protections, and infectious disease protections; all its concerns were addressed in the tentative agreement. Will CNA settling that contract — and now this strike — put more pressure on the UCLA system to put an end to their AFSCME stalemate?

To keep up-to-speed with this week’s protest, follow #UCforTheMany on Twitter.