By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO/DAVIS – Heavy winds didn’t sway hundreds of University of California, Davis workers – citing work intimidation by the UC statewide system – from picketing at the UCD Medical Center in Sacramento and UCD campus Wednesday during a 10-campus, one-day strike.
The 25,000-member statewide UC California Service and Patient Care workers – charging that they were holding the action to protect not only workers but patients – are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299. It’s the largest UC system trade union.
UPTE-CWA 9119, with another 14,000 members, joined the protests at the Med Center in Sacramento and gym, dining hall and other facilities at UC Davis main campus.
AFSCME is engaged in a two-year contract struggle with UC. The last offer to the union was made last August, mirroring three percent increases offered to other unions, but does not address the crucial “job outsourcing” question.
AFSCME Local 3299 said it has been forced to conduct work actions because of UC’s “intimidation tactics, violence and other interference with worker’ rights.”
However, in a released statement, University of California spokesperson Claire Doan said the union is trying to justify the strikes – four in the past year – to get a better deal at the bargaining table while endangering patients. Workers have been without a contract for two years.
“UC has focused on reaching an agreement, while AFSCME is intent on staging strikes,” Doan told the news media, adding “We have offered numerous competitive proposals, all of which union leaders have rejected without allowing a member vote…AFSCME leaders have not presented any substantive counteroffers since bargaining started in 2017.”
Workers, though, tell a different story of harassment of the system’s lowest paid workers.
“Through its actions, the University of California has created a hostile work environment that undermines workers’ ability to exercise their rights and voice concerns in the workplace,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger.
“We will not allow UC to silence the voices of its most vulnerable workers – overwhelmingly people of color – and we will take all necessary actions to hold UC accountable for any illegal behavior,” she added.
In fact, in an unfair labor practice charge filed earlier this week with the Public Employment Relations Board, the union said UC has engaged in workplace intimidation, including false arrest, and “condoning” assault with deadly weapons on peaceful picketers (vehicles charging and hitting protestors).
Reportedly, UC supervisors have enticed union workers to cross picket lines with parties and free meals, targeted union organizers for discipline and encouraged members to quit the union to get a pay raise.
“UC is resorting to intimidation tactics to silence the thousands of workers across California that have taken a stand against this behavior. We cannot and will not allow UC to violate the rights of these workers by trampling state law,” said Lybarger in a prepared statement.
There were no shortage of speakers at the UCD Med Center – although dotted with state lawmakers, and activists, the biggest name was famed farmworker civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who turned 89 Wednesday.
“Thank you for this strike action on my birthday, and your courage to stand up for each other and the health care system here,” said Huerta, encouraging workers to “fight for the people you take care of” before leading them in a series of labor chants, including, “Who has the power? People power.”
Ruth Ibarra, representing NorCal Resist and the Coalition of Labor Union Women, was blunt in her assessment of UC at the Med Center rally.
“It’s disgusting…UC has harassed, threatened and even tried to physically run down workers who speak out. I’m here to say enough is enough. Stop telling lies, stop dragging your feet and get back to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith,” said Ibarra.
“No one ever really wants to end up in a hospital, but when we do we rely on skilled, professional staff, like the AFSCME members here today to take care of us or our loved ones. UC will not attract the best and brightest if it continues down the path of austerity and outsourcing.
“Schools and hospitals are fundamental to our local communities. It is the rank and file – the teacher, medical tech, bus driver, custodian – who do the work, not the administrators,” Ibarra added.
Assemblyperson Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) encouraged workers to “fight and exercise your rights. Continue to fight for your rights and those of the patients you take care of every day.”
AFSCME Local 3299 represents more than 25,000 service and patient care technical workers on UC’s 10 campuses, five medial center, clinics, research laboratories and UC Hastings College of Law, and include security guards, groundskeepers, cooks, custodians, truck drivers, nurse aids, respiratory therapists, radiology techs, patients transporters, among others, according to the union.