By Gillian Vickers & Marc Abizeid
Campus News Reporter, Investigative Reporter
On May 29, the American Federation for State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) rescinded its notice to strike on June 4 and 5 and resumed contract negotiations with the University of California the following day.
According to AFSCME, the decision to withdraw the notice came after the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) ordered the union to resume negotiations.
PERB, which is composed of five governor-appointed members, partially acts as a judicial body responsible for administering bargaining statutes for California’s public schools, colleges and universities.
Ten months of bargaining have failed to produce a new contract for the 20,000 UC workers demanding higher wages. AFSMCE’s local chapter 3299 represents 11,000 patient technical care workers (PTC) and 9,000 service workers. According to AFMSCE calculations, workers at community colleges and health centers earn approximately 26 percent more than their UC counterparts.
Nicole Savickas, human resources and communications coordinator for UC’s Office of the President (UCOP), told City on a Hill Press (CHP) that the union withdrew its strike notice after PERB announced that it would support the UC in seeking a restraining order in the event of a strike. The UC says a restraining order, which would prevent PTC workers from striking outside their health centers, would be necessary to ensure patient health.
Dana Frank, UC Santa Cruz professor of history and outspoken workers’ rights activist, disagreed with the UC’s reasoning for the restraining order.
“These are people that care about other people for a living,” Frank said. “The last thing [AFSCME] wants to do is endanger patients.”
The union’s demands include a minimum pay rate of $14.50 per hour, better health care and pension plans, and a salary step system, which would ensure annual wage increases based on experience and seniority.
Allison Sirny-Guevara, AFSCME organizer, said that PERB ordered the union back to the bargaining table because the board claims that the UC has more to offer.
“The UC had already given us their last, best, and final offer,” Sirny-Guevara said, referring to the last contract proposal made before AFMSCE announced its UC-wide worker strike on May 23. “[The UC] did not offer market wages [and] it did not bring our workers out of poverty, so we rejected it. We’re waiting to see what they supposedly have to offer.”
William Schlitz, AFSCME’s political and media director, said that the decision to resume negotiations does not rescind the union’s right to strike.
“Discussions never stop, even if you are on strike,” Schlitz said. “It’s the formality of the decision. We were asked formally to go back to the bargaining table, and we agreed.”
However, according to Sirny-Guevara, the union cannot call for a strike while engaged in negotiations.
Although AFSCME withdrew its strike notice, the union and its supporters are organizing informational pickets and other actions throughout the week.