By Carolyn Steinle
Campus News Reporter

Union members, students and supporters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) congregated at UCSF and UCLA on April 3 to picket and petition the University of California for wage and benefit increases for patient care technical employees. At UCSF, 45 protestors out of the crowd of about 350 were arrested, while at UCLA, 38 of about 650 picketers were arrested.

AFSCME held the event to demonstrate the unionized demands for market wages, automatic step increases in wages, and protected healthcare for UC employees.

Laura Barringer, a second-year student at UC Santa Cruz, was one of the 45 people arrested in San Francisco last Thursday.

“The civil disobedience that occurred was a really powerful tool for the union to show that we are serious about this contract fight,” Barringer said.

Barringer, who has been working as an intern at AFSCME’s local 3299 chapter explained that the UCLA and UCSF pickets had mass gatherings of supporters from all of the UC campuses, making the April 3 picket the largest in a series of UC-wide pickets that have occurred this year.

This rally was followed by a similar smaller rally on the UCSC campus last week, which took place outside the walls of the 9/10 Dining Hall on April 11. While no one was arrested, passersby trying to get lunch had difficulty overlooking the more than 100 UCSC students and UC workers who were chanting, “End poverty wage now!”

For about six months, AFSCME and the University of California have been in negotiations for two separate contracts, one regarding service employees and one regarding patient care technical employees. Currently, the union and the UC are in closed-door negotiations, and it is not clear if or when they will come to an agreement. The outcome of the negotiations will affect approximately 20,000 of the union’s members who work at the University.

However, in February, AFSCME rejected an offer from the UC that would have provided $16 million in wage increases.

Nicole Savickas, Human Recourses Communications Coordinator of the UC Office of the President, explained that the mediation process is standard the University of California procedure. She said the current negotiations between the union and the University of California should not be considered a dispute, despite the picketing.

The picket at the 9/10 Dining Hall on April 11 marks the sixth organized rally by AFSCME local 3299 this year. The crowd at the event wasn’t just comprised of workers, but also current an incoming students, who spoke out in support of the workers.

One of the incoming students who spoke at the event explained why she was there. “[I know what it’s like] to have a mom that you never get to see, because she works three jobs. I don’t want to see that happen again.”

Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME local 3299, explained that the union wants the UC to “recruit and retain” workers, because the current wages are too low to keep workers at UC hospitals after they have been trained. Harrison said this affects quality of treatment for patients.

Allison Sirny-Guevara is the official organizer for AFSCMEs local 3299 in Santa Cruz, and has been actively trying to get the UC to change its worker contracts.

“We want to gain automatic salary steps for our 20,000 UC employee members and increase their starting salary to market wages,” Sirny-Guevara said. “[Starting salaray at the UC is] on average 20 to 30 percent lower then campuses like Cabrillo and hospital centers like Kiser.”

Ernesto Encinas, a cook at the 9/10 Dining Hall and active union member, wants the UC to meet the unions contract demands.

“We want the [UC] to honor [our value],” Encinas said. “And we can’t have quality of life when both parents have to work two jobs in order to make a living.”

Behind closed doors, the mediation process continues and both parties lack of resolution is affecting the UC workers who live on these wages daily. AFSCME union members plan to continue their fight into the summer months.

For Harrison, the battle against the UC means a long road ahead. “It is time for change to happen.”