By Gillian Vickers & Lisa Donchak
Campus Reporter, Campus Editor

After 10 months of negotiations with the University of California, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) announced a UC-wide worker strike June 4 and 5 to demand higher wages and better healthcare coverage.

While neither party prefers a strike, AFSCME will go through with it if it does not reach an agreement with the UC by June 4. In response to the announced strike, the UC is seeking a temporary restraining order against the union for those striking at medical facilities, according to representatives from the UC Office of the President (UCOP).

“The picket lines will be booming at the base of campus and the West Entrance,” said Sara Smith, a graduate student. “A lot of classes will be canceled, and if not, a lot of students won’t be going.”

Smith was handing out fliers at the Quarry Plaza on Friday, when AFSCME made its announcement.

“The point is to shut down business as usual,” Smith said.

According to AFSCME calculations, workers at community colleges and health centers earn approximately 26 percent more than their counterparts at UC campuses. The union is asking for an established minimum rate of $14.50 per hour. As of May 23, the university offered $11.50 per hour, and it asserts the state budget cuts impede further increases.

Maria Padilla, a UC Santa Cruz food service employee for five years, works part-time at a Valero gas station to provide for her family in addition to her job on campus.

“I would like to see that we can get the same salary [as workers] at other schools,” Padilla said in a previous interview with City on a Hill Press (CHP). “That way maybe we can have just one job.”

AFSCME and the UC recently completed the fact-finding phase, whereby a neutral panel reviewed claims from the UC and AFSCME. Carol Vendrillo, chair of the fact-finding panel, refuted the university’s claim that state budget cuts prevent it from increasing service workers’ wages.

“The fact-finder believes it is not the lack of state funding but the university’s priorities that leaves the service workers’ wages at the bottom of the list,” Vendrillo said. “UC had demonstrated the ability to increase compensation, when it fits with certain priorities, without any demonstrable link to a state funding source.”

Lakesha Harrison, the president of AFSMCE 3299 and a licensed vocational nurse, hopes to see change in the near future.

“We hope that UC executives come back to the table with something that will bring our workers out of poverty,” Harrison told AP in a telepress conference last Friday.

The local chapter 3299 is made up of 20,000 UC employees, consisting of 11,000 patient technical care (PTC) workers and 9,000 service workers. Although traditionally and legally the two units have negotiated separately, both units will strike together next week.

UCOP sees the unification of the two AFSCME units as an indicator of what UCOP has called “a lack of good faith in the [negotiations] process.” Because of this discrepancy, the university filed unfair labor practice charges against AFSCME with the Public Employment Relations Board on May 21, according to a press release on UCOP’s website.

Under the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) the union has the right to strike if the fact-finding phase, the final stage in the negotiations procedure, does not produce a contract. In this case, it did not.

While striking means sacrificing their salaries for those days, 96.9 percent of PTC and 97.5 percent of service workers voted to authorize a strike.

AFMSCE will not disclose what percentage of its 20,000 workers voted on the issue. Harrison said the voter turnout was “unprecedented.”

Ernesto Encinas, a cook at UCSC and active union member, is in favor of the strike.

“I voted yes, hell yes. … We’ve done everything in a legal and peaceful way,” Encinas said. “A strike is another tool to get the [UC] to get real.”

While many UCSC students are involved in supporting AFSCME, not all are strongly in favor of helping out the union.

“I don’t take the shuttles or eat in the dining halls,” said Todd Sempel, a fourth-year sociology major. “I think [the strike] is exciting … It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Other students are downright frustrated.

“They’re inconveniencing my life,” said Alex Dearana, a first-year student and Stevenson College representative for Student Union Assembly. “I don’t see any benefit for me in them striking.”

Dearana said the overall response on campus will not be positive, especially because the strike comes the week before finals.

“It’s a really bad time for them [to strike],” he said.

Big-name figures, like candidate for state assembly Bill Monning, have endorsed AFSCME in its efforts.

“We’re looking at shaping the future of this university,” Monning said to a crowd at the Quarry Plaza. “It’s time for this university to serve the workers.”

Even though the negotiations process has been complicated, AFSCME workers are determined to get the raise they set out to gain over 10 months ago.