Members of AFSCME 3299 picket at the main entrance of UCSC in opposition to outsourcing and unfair wages. Photos by Josephine Joliff

The clash between the UC and its workers continues.

Members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 took to the picket line at the base of campus to protest the UC’s unfair labor practices on May 16. Turnout reached over 100 people. 

The union is concerned with the UC’s labor outsourcing, which takes money away from its workers by hiring private companies to do jobs that unionized public workers would otherwise have done. The UC signed a contract worth $150 million with Aya Healthcare to provide service at its Davis medical center late last year. 

The systemwide strike — AFSCME 3299’s fifth in the last year — comes in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations with the UC. AFSCME 3299 alleges the labor outsourcing will weaken its members’ ability to bargain for new and fair contracts. 

“The situation is not about money. […] It’s about power,” said Nicolas Gutierrez, a senior custodian of 25 years at UC Santa Cruz. “[The UC] seems to think that by us getting our jobs secured that we’re going to take power away from them. We’re not taking power away from them.” 

At the heart of the conflict is the contrast between the UC’s increasing revenue and its refusal to pay workers wages and benefits that keep up with the cost of living. 

The United Professional Technical Employees-Communication Workers of America (UPTE-CWA), which has also been bargaining for a new contract for over two years, struck in solidarity with AFSCME 3299 workers. UPTE-CWA recognizes that an attack on any UC union threatens all workers’ ability to bargain.

“Who knows how many UC workers will be illegally displaced because of this,” said Phil Johnston, president of UCSC’s local UPTE-CWA union. “This really cannot go on. This flagrant disregard for the law and precedent, it’s become normalized.”

Johnston emphasized that outsourcing union work is a clear breach of the contract between the UC and its workers and, as such, is illegal. 

AFSCME 3299, WSSC and other groups spoke during the rally to express their concerns about the UC becoming more private. 

In addition to AFSCME 3299 and UPTE-CWA workers, Workers Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC) led chants at the picket line like, “We march, we fight, till we get what’s right!” WSSC members see labor outsourcing as another instance of the UC seeking a profit.

“These trends of privatization that lead the UC to save money on their end, on the administration end, and then take jobs away from our most marginalized and lowest paid union workers and give them to non-unionized workers, hurts everyone,” said Cleo Osheroff, a third-year student and WSSC member. “The university is essentially becoming a private business.” 

The UC Office of the President (UCOP) released a statement on May 16 saying the way to a deal is at the bargaining table, not at the picket line. 

“Five disruptive strikes since last May — including three in the past several months — come at a cost to patients, students, and UC communities, while doing nothing to advance negotiations,” the statement read. 

AFSCME 3299 filed a formal case against the UC system on March 25, which will be mediated by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). Members hope the report will lead to better terms in their next contract. 

PERB already gave guidance on UPTE-CWA’s case against the UC. The PERB issued a fact-finding report, which contained the board’s recommendations for a host of issues related to the union’s new contract. 

The neutral third-party report recommended a 3 percent increase in UPTE-CWA members’ wages each year of the contract, up from the 2 percent suggested by the UC but down from UPTE-CWA’s 5.5 percent request. Ultimately, the two parties will have to reach an agreement on their own, as PERB’s report is nonbinding.

By the time AFSCME 3299’s case against the UC is resolved, both sides will be even more battered than they are now. Two years of contract negotiations have taken their toll, and there is no end in sight. Ramon Cano, a UCSC custodian of 25 years, is not optimistic. 

“To be honest and sincere, I think the university has already beat us emotionally. Many of us, the workers, are tired of all the UC’s pressure and are getting tired of fighting now,” Cano said in Spanish. “I shouldn’t be saying this or acting so negatively, but I honestly don’t think there’s much of a future here.”

Additional reporting by Julian Barragan.