Claiming that every other avenue to raise worker wages had been exhausted, the American Federal State County Municipal Employee union (AFSCME), Chapter 3299 informed the University of California on Friday, May 23, that its members would strike June 4 and 5.
On the Wednesday prior to the strike announcement, UC Santa Barbara service workers who are members of AFSCME members lined up in the campus’s Arbor area to cast their votes for or against the strike, and signed testimonies describing the injuries low wages have caused them and their families. According to elections committee organizer and UCSB service worker Ed Woolfolk, UCSB now employs close to 500 AFSCME constituents, which he characterized as a phenomenal increase in membership since the start of the school year, when a handful of gardeners began questioning their financial stagnation.
“This started back in October and began with grounds workers, and now has spread out,” said Woolfolk. “We stayed here on a promise that things would get better. We took the cuts all these years that the state has been in trouble, and now we’re in trouble.”
The state budget is not the end of the story, though. Lead organizer Julian Posadas said that UC only receives 14.6 percent of its budget from the state, and AFSCME workers get 8.6 percent of that amount. Of that, 8.6 percent goes to AFSCME workers. UC is legally able to shift its fund’s priorities, Posadas said, meaning that worker wages need not depend entirely on the state.
Gary Richmond, a parking service worker of 15 years, discussed how UC had balanced its budget by eliminating step increases-which are awarded for the number of years a person has worked for the system. During times of economic inflation and real estate spikes, that decision has financially disabled many UCSB workers, Richmond said.
“Everything [on the market] has increased accordingly,” said Richmond. “When I first got here we thought [things would] always be available. Then about seven years ago, UC took out step increases.”
UC ignores the years of service many workers hold, agreed lead maintenance worker Charles Thompson, by unfairly matching new employee wages to senior employee wages.
“They want to give a new employee the same as a 15 year employee,” said Thompson. “After 30 years of seeing that, I’m tired. The trickle down theory just doesn’t work; the drop is just not enough.”
Frustrated maintenance workers, custodians, cooks, and gardeners formed a bargaining team to negotiate with UC Regents for a financial compromise. When these efforts were unsuccessful, AFSCME and Center for Labor & Community Research produced and released a report entitled “Failing California Communities” last February to raise awareness about the low wages. But according to Posadas, after ten months, the University has still only offered a 39-cent raise over a three year period, an appalling bargain in contrast to the 40 percent raise chancellors have seen this year. While UC maintains that state budget cuts are to blame, AFSCME insists it take responsibility and start making change.
“Budget crisis has been UC’s rap for years and years,” said Posadas. “But for the first time in our union we’ve done extensive research on their budget; UC needs to be held accountable.”
Many students have joined the workers, protesting UC’s continual raising of tuitions to compensate for its supposed deficit. One student group has posted photos of workers with their testimonies throughout campus in efforts to raise awareness. UCSB freshman Armando Carmona said his motives for action are personal.
“My parents were working class parents and they’ve been through these situations, with unfair wages and fighting to survive, and I feel it’s a big issue,” said Carmona. “When I see these workers, I see my family.”
With 1,000 student pledges signed in solidarity and 97.5 percent of service workers from UC campuses statewide reportedly voting in favor of a strike, AFSCME hopes the regents will reconsider their proposals.
UC has responded to the strike announcement with tenders to bargain further, according to Posadas. However, he said that AFSCME will not accept any offer that its membership considers “indecent.”
“We hope this will demonstrate to UC our strength, and the fact that workers are agitated and upset that they have not reached an acceptable agreement with ten months of bargaining,” said Posadas. AFSCME expects to see the majority of its membership and a fairly large number of student supporters on the two strike days, Posadas said. They plan to gather from 2 a.m. to 10 p.m. on both days at two locations: UCSB’s East Gate entrance, at Highway 217 and its West Gate on El Colegio Road. In addition, AFSCME plans to host community allies, politicians, and other speakers during two informational rallies at East Gate at noon.
On May 27, UC filed a request for a restraining order to prevent the strike, citing the need to protect patients at UC medical centers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere that serve surrounding communities. The Public Employment Relations Board’s decision is due Thursday morning, May 29.