LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California employees’ union representing 25,000 low-wage campus and medical facility workers began its statewide, three-day strike on Monday after a year-long impasse in negotiations with the University of California came to a head last month.
Later this week the union workers will be joined by two other unions in solidarity. Up to 50,000 workers will be out in what could be the largest strike in the University of California system’s history.
Last week, the California Public Employment Relations Board sought an injunction to block what it deemed “essential employees” from joining the picket lines. The filing in Sacramento County Superior Court asked a judge to order those employees at University of California hospitals, campuses and clinics to keep working, but the request was declined.
AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson John De Los Angeles said the Regents of the University of California sought to block 700 employees from going on strike. The union offered a number of employees to respond to emergency situations as needed, which the court found sufficient.
Negotiations between the union and the university system stalled a year ago and reached a final impasse last month when university representatives offered a unilateral 3 percent pay increase. The union sought a 6 percent increase.
Last month, the union voted to go on strike and will be joined by members from the California Nurses Association and the University Professional and Technical Employees Communication Workers of America Local 9199 later this week.
“Potentially, there will be 50,000 workers on strike,” said De Los Angeles.
Along with better wages and improvement to retirement plans, employees say the University of California is outsourcing jobs, provides no protection against layoffs, has not addressed complaints about sexual harassment policies, and under staffs shifts.
De Los Angeles added, “So far the UC system has been completely tone-deaf to the growing inequality and their failure to address these is an insult.”
Workers will rally across 15 different sites in California, including the campuses at Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and several medical facilities.
University officials say they are working to limit the impact on students and patients with during the strike. A representative for the University of California Office of the President called the strike “highly inappropriate” as a negotiating tactic.
“A strike is only hurting the union’s own members who will lose pay for joining this ill-advised three-day walkout, while negatively affecting services to patients and students. A disruptive demonstration will change neither UC’s economic situation nor the university’s position on AFSCME’s unreasonable demands,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Beechem.
The university said it has compensated its employees at or above the market but cannot justify the 6 percent wage hike called for by the union.
Wages will be increased in the upcoming fiscal year, according to Beechem, due to the drawn-out negotiation process.