UCSF workers first took to the picket lines over systemic employment problems in May, 2018.

Strikers Protest Systemic Outsourcing

Writer
School of Medicine

From Oct. 23 to 25, the streets around the UCSF Parnassus Heights and Mission Bay campuses were transformed into rallies for the rights of front line workers.

Police presence was up, barricades were in place, but maracas and drums sticks were out in full force as well. It was loud. It was raucous. It was energetic. Often the strikers’ chants were saluted in solidarity with honks and raised fists of the passing motorists.

The striking members of AFSCME 3299 hit the streets to primarily put a spotlight on UC’s outsourcing policies, and failure to support its workers as a California State Auditors report shows. The report indicated that UC failed to justify its replacement of employees with contractors, underpaid contractors, and avoided competitive bids. However, UC has pointed out that system wide the number of patient care employees has increased by 2,450 workers, and spending on campus service contracts has remained flat.

These UC practices affect its most diverse workforce and exacerbate inequality. These issues strike directly at the core promise of the UC to be an engine for opportunity and an eminent institution serving the public. By undercutting these workers, UC thwarts workers’ ability to cling to California’s dwindling middle class.

UC transparency and respect are at the heart of these protests. After the strike last May and preceding months of tension, UC bypassed collective bargaining and provided across the board raises with no stated change to the outsourcing practices. With raising health care costs and continued fears about outsourcing, these concessions provide little solace.

As Claudia Ruso, an 11-year veteran blood bank technician and AFSCME 3299 member, said “This is the best job I have ever done. But when I get emails thanking me for my service, I am frustrated. Their words don’t mean anything. My colleagues have to commute from Sacramento just to get by while working this job. Every day we are losing the people who run UC.”

The necessity of these workers is evident in three-day limit to the strike. In that time, many university operations ground to a halt. These workers recognize their roles as public servants and in turn limit their work stoppage, unlike the currently striking Marriott hotel workers. However, this in no way impedes their desire to put the spotlight on UC’s treatment of its front line workers.

“The health of a union is in its solidarity,” said Tod Stenhouse, a spokesperson for AFSCME 3299. “We certainly have achieved that here with 97% of our members voting for the stoppage, 10,000 other workers joining us in sympathy, and Building Trade Workers honoring the lines at Mission Bay.”

Indeed, these workers have garnered the very vocal and public support, such as politicians as State Assemblymember Todd Gloria. Through hard fought efforts by members of AFSCME 3299, past successes have included five across the board wage increases since 2012 and, through joint efforts with students, the university’s divestment from businesses with operations in South Africa in the ‘80s.

This is monumental progress when compared to the success of public sector employee unions in other states such as TSEU 6186 in Texas, according to TSEU 6186 spokesman, Seth Hutchinson.

“It is illegal in Texas for public employee groups to engage in worker stoppages or for the state to engage in collective bargaining with these workers,” Hutchinson said.

This forces the workers in Texas to utilize less energizing and lower visibility strategies such as canvassing and grassroots lobbying in their after work hours. Consequently, workers there have seen fewer pay raises in the same time period, despite similar relative cost of living increases.

The issues there also go beyond outsourcing. The discussion ventures even further toward taking public universities private. As such, the striking AFSCME 3299 members stand as a vanguard for a dwindling labor movement in the U.S. Support for this strike and its possible outcomes will set the tone for the national debates on inequality and faith in the stewardship of our public institutions.