Music played in the background as picketers crossed the street Wednesday morning. Photo by Yvonne Gonzalez

Almost 200 students and workers struck at the base of campus on Nov. 13 to denounce the UC’s recent increase in labor outsourcing. The day saw hours of picketing, rallying and a strong police presence of about 10 to 20 officers at a time.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 represents over 25,000 service and patient care technical workers across the UC system. The union has demanded benefit protections, fair wages, job security and career growth opportunities since its previous contracts with the UC expired in 2017. The UC has consistently refused its demands.

This latest unfair labor practice (ULP) strike, marking the fifth since May 2018, comes in the wake of a UC report to the state legislature in August documenting a 52 percent increase in spending on outsourcing between 2016 and 2019. The UC increased the number of AFSCME Local 3299-represented employees systemwide in the same period of time, said UC Office of the President Associate Director of Media Relations Andrew Gordon in an email.    

Students organized a “white wall,” creating a barrier of non-violence between police and student activists. Photo by Maria Cordova

“If your outsourcing is growing at 52 percent and direct employment is only growing at 16 [percent], what does that tell you?” said AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse. “It tells you that UC is doing precisely what the state auditor said they were doing in 2017, which is systematically replacing direct employees with lower wage contractors who get paid a hell of a lot less.”

After a 2017 state audit found UC policies to be flawed and often ignored, the UC modified its regulations on competitive bidding and outsourcing of labor. The amended policy requires all UC campuses and medical centers to allow existing labor contracts to expire after 10 years. If they wish to extend the contract at this time, the UC must provide AFSCME Local 3299 with a request for proposals (RFP) with justification as to why the work should be contracted out.

However, AFSCME Local 3299 alleges the UC has been granting itself exemptions from its own policy to circumvent the RFP process and extend contracts in secret. 

A 2016 contract between the UC and Lyons Security Service at UC Riverside required the service to pay its contractors the UC minimum wage. But in 2018, the UC changed the contract to exempt Lyons from this requirement without notifying AFSCME Local 3299.

The union filed six ULP complaints against the UC on Oct. 28 in response to alleged violations of California law, UC policy and collective bargaining agreements related to labor outsourcing. The state Public Employment Relations Board found sufficient evidence to issue a formal complaint against the UC based on the union’s charges.

“There are a lot of people who are injured,” said Julissa Muñoz, AFSCME Local 3299-represented dining hall worker, in Spanish. “They have injured shoulders and backs because they are being overworked. [The UC doesn’t] care if you have to wash all the dishes by yourself or make all the salads by yourself, they just want to pay one person. That’s why we want a fair contract so we can be fully employed.”

Throughout the strike, students and workers repeated the refrain, “Are you ready to fight?” “Damn right!” Right after the midday rally, demonstrators gathered in a huge circle on the lawn at the intersection of Bay Street and High Street in a show of unity to energize supporters before returning to the picket line. 

Second-year Arianna Nocelo is a member of the campus Worker-Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), a group committed to supporting worker and student rights at UCSC.

“I see the same workers here every single time. They’re giving up their day wages to be here, so I can too,” Nocelo said. “That really involves student solidarity in giving up your privileges as a student. You come here, you pay into this institution, but that also means that you pay into people. And this institution, conducting itself in the way it is, you really have to challenge that and be willing to question your own comfortability.”

At the end of the noon rally, organizers joined hands and chanted “I believe that we will win!” before resuming the picket. Photo by Alonso Hernandez

The fight for job security and fair wages is intertwined with the fight for racial and gender equality. Black women employed by the UC receive starting wages as much as 23 percent lower than white men performing similar jobs. As outsourced workers, they are paid up to 53 percent less than UC employees. 

The workers and students at the picket line on Wednesday view outsourcing increases as representative of the larger pattern of the UC perpetuating inequality through its labor practices.

“They don’t care if we have families or children that have dreams — children that we would like to be college students like you, perhaps at a UC or any other university,” said dining hall worker Julissa Muñoz, in Spanish. “They don’t care because they want to keep the money that students pay and not pay us a living wage. We want a just contract. We want to be treated fairly. We are human beings, not animals.”

Additional reporting by Julian Barragan, Jordan Hankston, Alonso Hernandez, Thomas Sawano, Chloe Selznick and Alexandra Wheatley.