A group of around 20 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, UC Santa Cruz’s Skilled Crafts Bargaining Unit, demonstrated at the base of campus on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
Campus electrician Gary Riggs said the unit was protesting in response to questionable paycheck practices from UCSC.
“Before our contract was expired in the end of September, the university started taking additional pension contributions out of our paychecks, and pension contributions are a mandatory subject of bargaining,” Riggs said, as cars driving by honked in support. “The union, on behalf of the Skilled Crafts Bargaining Unit, filed an unfair labor practice charge against the university for taking these additional pension contributions and not bargaining in good faith.”
The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which describes itself as a “statewide quasi-judicial administrative agency,” filed a complaint against UCSC on March 6.
“[UCSC] failed and refused to bargain in good faith … in violation of Government Code section 3571(c),” according to the issued complaint.
Riggs said AFSCME Local 3299 is currently in contract negotiation with the university, and he hopes for a fairer shake when they meet for mediation on May 7.
“We’re trying to get job protections right now for the first time in the Skilled Crafts Bargaining Unit’s history,” Riggs said. “This last year, we suffered layoffs. We had a bunch of people retire and not be replaced. So, we’re being asked to do more work with less people, and we’re looking for job protections in the form of stronger language in our contracting out article.”
Riggs said that as the contracting article currently reads, the university can lay off union employees and give their work to outside contractors with no consequences.
UCSC director of public information Jim Burns said contract negotiations between AFSCME and the UC happen at a statewide level.
“The parties have been negotiating since last September for a successor agreement, and it would be fair to say that reaching agreement over the remaining issues has been challenging,” Burns said in a email. “Because of that, the parties have mutually agreed to meet with a state mediator next week to facilitate what I’m sure everyone hopes will be productive dialogue.”
AFSCME union representative and organizer Rebecca Gilpas said that the union’s demands should not be much of a stretch for the university.
“We feel like we’re not asking for much,” said Gilpas, who has been with Local 3299 for about a month. “We’re asking for improvements in health care. Workers are already putting in enough money out of pocket, and we don’t want that to stay as is.”
Family Student Housing carpenter Orin Hutchinson said that in the face of budget problems, the university’s priorities don’t make sense.
“We’ve had layoffs in our unions, where we did have a five-person physical carpentry shop, and now they’re down to two people,” he said. “At the same time, the university is adding millions of square feet of new buildings, yet they’re actually shrinking the number of [employees] that maintain and work on those buildings.”
Riggs, who held a sign that read “Reunion with Recognition and Respect,” said the demonstration’s coincidence with Alumni Weekend was strategic.
“There’s a lot of people coming up here, a lot of donors,” he said, “and we’re hoping to have an impact and put a little pressure on the administration to do the right thing at the bargaining table.”
Hutchinson said that although the unit is small — its total membership is 47 — he is hopeful that AFSCME Local 3299 stands a chance of getting what they want.
“We are the only union that this university itself, UC Santa Cruz, bargains with,” he said. “We’re not a statewide entity. We’re local to this campus, and we bargain our own contract with help from a union negotiator. I think that one person can make a difference.”