On the eve of the University of California Board of Regents coming to UCSB to meet on Tuesday, July 15, service workers across the state picketed UC campuses in an effort to get what they view as a fair proposal brought to the negotiating table. Currently at an impasse in negotiations, UC officials claim that the union representing the workers – the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – has ignored requests to negotiate, while union representatives counter that the UC has yet to come forth with a reasonable proposal.
“We’re 25 percent behind the market,” said Bob Pinto – a laborer at UCSB for the past eight years – on Monday, explaining that workers with similar positions at Santa Barbara City College make that much more money. “That causes problems at home. People have to work two jobs to make ends meet, and then their kids get in trouble when parents aren’t around.”
Monday, July 14, marked the beginning of a five-day strike, in which 8,500 service employees from San Diego to Sacramento are involved. A group of about 50 workers – custodians, grounds workers, and employees at the dining commons – picketed at the roundabout on the eastern end of UCSB’s campus today, along with a few of the healthcare workers from the student health center, who are part of the same union. In fact, many members of the union who work patient care positions – including certified medical assistants and vocational nurses – at the UC system’s 10 student health centers and five medical centers made a decision not to cross the picket line in order to show solidarity with the service workers in the union. “To me, it’s a moral obligation not to cross the picket line,” said Marie Arnold, a transcriptionist at UCSB’s student health center. “We all have the same union and the same issues.” Their involvement runs counter to the injunction that was issued last Friday, July 11, in which a court barred AFSCME workers – specifically those in patient care roles – from striking due to fears about threats to public health.
On Monday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger strengthened the court order when he stated, “Public safety is my number one priority and this strike could affect the health and well being of many people who rely on the critical services provided by medical support staff. While there may be legitimate issues to be resolved, it is unacceptable to use the welfare of innocent people as a bargaining chip. I support the court’s action to restrain any unauthorized job actions.”
UCSB officials agree, and Paul Desruisseaux, associate vice chancellor of the public affairs office, declared that this strike is an illegal one. But he also confirmed that UC officials are committed to beginning good faith negotiations. “The university seeks to get this resolved so that we can resume normal activities,” he said.
“The disconnect we have right now is that the union won’t meet with us,” explained Nicole Savickas, a spokesperson on labor relations for the UC. “All of this has been run through the media. I think we’re providing good proposals.” There hasn’t been a meeting since June 3, she said, so there hasn’t been an opportunity to reach an agreement.
Deborah Grabelle, AFSCME’s chief negotiator, rejected those claims as untrue, saying that after months of bargaining, the UC has yet to produce a proposal that meets the demands of the workers for what they feel is a satisfactory living wage. “They’re trying to keep these workers in poverty,” she said. “They say they don’t have any money, yet the UC president just received a $400,000 per year pay increase. He makes at least $800,000 per year, including free housing and a car, but the service workers can’t afford to live.”
And that sentiment was what kept the strikers moving on Monday, in the face of potential charges. Catching wind that a group of UC officials – including associate chancellor for administrative services Donna Carpenter, who is responsible for UCSB’s service workers – were having lunch at a courtyard near the traffic roundabout, protestors surrounded the table with spirited chants of “No contract, no peace!” and “No more lies!” Carpenter addressed the crowd, saying that the best thing to happen would be getting back to negotiations. “We’re anxious to get this resolved as well,” she said.
Strike leaders called for a delegation to be sent to tomorrow’s meeting of the UC Board of Regents. “We want equal representation of all the workers on campus,” said Julian Posada, the statewide vice president of AFSCME. “We’re on the meeting agenda and we should be able to voice our opinion.” Carpenter replied that a public commentary period will be part of the meeting, and that workers would be able to express their opinions to the regents at that time.