Monday, July 14, 2008

UC service workers begin weeklong strike


With nearly a year of failed contract negotiations behind them, service workers at UC Santa Barbara joined their counterparts at UC campuses and medical centers across the state in a daylong strike on Monday that is planned to continue through the week.
Approximately 90 workers represented by the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, or AFSCME 3299, hoisted signs and waved at passing motorists near the entrance to the university from Highway 217.

“They continue to live in poverty,” said Julian Posadas, the lead union organizer at UCSB.
Union leaders cited wages as low as $10 an hour and stalling techniques by UC negotiators as the driving force behind the strike. Until the union gets an offer it find appropriate, Posadas said, workers will continue to protest and picket.
“We are always willing to go back to the table at any time,” he said, “but we will not go back to the table to waste service workers’ time.”
However, university officials said the strike is illegal and constitutes bad-faith bargaining.
“We need the union to come back to the negotiating table,” said Nicole Savickas, a spokeswoman for the UC system.
While UC leaders can’t meet every demand the workers are making, Savixkas said negotiators are doing their best.
“We’re trying to make progress,” she said. “But the union hasn’t met with us for service bargaining since June 3. All we can do is continue to say, hey, we’re here, we want to bargain.”
On Friday, a judge signed a temporary restraining order against an ASCME strike after the state agency that oversees collective bargaining for public employers submitted a complaint on behalf of the university.
According to the judge’s ruling, the union may have failed to give adequate notice of the strike and encouraged employees to participate despite the potential that public safety could be endangered. Many of the employees represented by ASCME 3299 are patient care workers at UC medical centers.
The judge ordered union officials to appear in court to show cause for the strike, scheduling a hearing for July 22.
Nonetheless, Posadas said the strike went forward on the advice of the union’s attorneys, who argued that the protest is legal since the university was served notice of the planned strike dates on Thursday.
“Everything worked pretty well,” Posadas said. “The turnout was good. The workers are motivated to come back out tomorrow.”
UCSB officials confirmed approximately 90 service workers picketed on Monday, including a large portion of the early morning custodial crew and groundskeepers. Six out of 34 student health care workers didn’t report for work, while 12 workers from dining halls went on strike, UCSB News Director George Foulsham said.
“Basically, managers are covering shifts,” he said. “Nothing has been disrupted.”
Savickas said less than 2,000 workers went on strike statewide, a rough estimate that varied during the day. She said campuses experienced only minor disruptions.
“Our biggest concern has been medical centers and they called in temporary workers to make sure services continued uninterrupted,” Savickas said.
Justin Prince, an irrigation specialist who started working at UCSB six months ago, said he is striking for one simple reason.
“Sustainable life,” he said. “That’s all we want. Enough to get by.”
Prince started his shift at 7:30 a.m. and still had his sign reading “Service Workers on Strike” held high overhead at noon. Other workers started striking as early as 2 a.m. and some planned to remain until the late evening hours.
“This is my job now,” said Edward Woolfolk, a Santa Barbara native who has worked in UCSB’s recreation department for 35 years. “…How many times can you go to the table and get nothing?”
After learning that several of his friends who work as groundskeepers on campus were struggling with their pay, he became involved with the union. Since then, Woolfolk said other workers have joined in the protest, along with other campus unions.
“It’s across the board,” he said, rattling off a list that included painters, dishwashers, laborers, clerical workers and medical staff.
However, a university official said offers made by UC negotiators are laudable and urged union leaders to return to the bargaining table to continue discussions.
“Our employees deserve good contracts and they deserve them now,” Howard Pripas, UC’s executive director for labor relations, said in a news release. “Our offers would result in wage increases worth well over $125 million and good benefits.”
Savickas cited wage increases for patient care employees of 26 percent during the next five years, as well as increases in minimum hourly rates for service workers from $10.28 to $11.50 or $12 depending on location.
She said that offer wouldn’t change until union leaders take up negotiations again. In the meantime, Savickas urged workers to stay on the job, as repercussions from the court that issued the restraining order remain unknown.
“We’ve been letting them know that the strike is illegal,” she said.
Adding that while university officials are reluctant to penalize employees, Savickas said campuses have policies in place for unexplained absences that must be followed.
“I’m hoping that as employees are at work and they understand the fact that the strike is illegal and talk to their managers and see our postings about what that might mean, that they will be discouraged from continuing to participate,” she said.
Union organizers, however, are working to combat attempts by UC officials to keep employees from striking. Posadas said workers have been receiving telephone calls at home from university representatives dissuading them from joining the picket line.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s pretty much word-of-mouth,” he said of attempts to inform workers about the legal issues surrounding the strike. “We had some workers out there that were going into work areas and talking to people.”
Bob Pinto, a Carpinteria resident who has worked as a laborer at UCSB for eight years, said he had no problem with going on strike.
“Negotiations are at a stalemate right now,” he said. “…They said that they’re broke, but they’ve got billions and billions of dollars.”
In addition to service workers, members and representatives from other unions — including Coalition of University Employees and United Auto Workers — showed up to protest, along with a handful of students.
“It’s been increasingly devastating,” said Tuyen Nguyen, a UCSB student majoring in Asian American studies. “It continues to amaze me how our workers haven’t seen an increase in four years. … It’s absurd that it takes them almost a year now to negotiate a contract.”
Many of those picketing near the large traffic circle at the southeastern corner of campus wore green T-shirts reading “One Union, One Fight” and solicited plenty of honks from passing motorists.
Workers plan to remain out in force from 2 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, particularly during visits from the UC president and chancellors on Tuesday, as well as the planned UC Board of Regents meeting later this week.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Posadas said. “We hope this strike will push them back to the table to talk about real numbers.”


Anonymous said...

AFSCME - Association for Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees

Anonymous said...

Maybe those honks were people saying "get back to work"!

Anonymous said...

"Justin Prince, an irrigation specialist who started working at UCSB six months ago, said he is striking for one simple reason.
“Sustainable life,” he said. “That’s all we want. Enough to get by.”

The guy's been working six months and he's demanding a raise already? Why did he agree to take the job in the first place if the wages weren't sufficient? I'd say be thankful you're living in America and have a job at all, or step aside and let someone have it that would be happy to have it. Stop risking public health and safety or get another job.