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Union workers strike at 10 campuses, 5 hospitals in California university system

By Daniel Uria
Union workers strike at 10 campuses, 5 hospitals in California university system
Thousands of University of California workers will strike on Thursday in protest of plans by the university to outsource jobs. Photo courtesy AFSCME 3299/Facebook

May 16 (UPI) -- Tens of thousands of workers in the statewide University of California system will strike Thursday over concerns that jobs are being outsourced, union officials said.

The one-day statewide strike will affect 10 campuses and five medical centers. It follows the filings of three claims of unfair labor practice charges against the system for entering outsourcing agreements without meeting with workers, as required by state law. The walkout will include workers of all types, from custodial employees to food workers to healthcare specialists.

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The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- one of the state's largest labor unions -- filed the complaints. It's the largest union in the UC system.

"The University of California has bypassed its workers at every turn, refusing to meet and confer about plans to outsource the last middle-class jobs in California to poverty wage contractors," AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said in a statement. "By cutting workers out of decisions about who will be providing the services that UC patients and students rely on, it's clear that UC is focused on one thing -- paying its lowest wage workers even less."

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AFSCME and University Professional and Technical Employees-CWA, which represent nearly 50,000 combined workers at the university system, said they learned about several plans for officials to outsource some jobs to workers from outside contracting companies.

The unions say the UC system secretly engaged in a joint venture to contract workers through healthcare services company Kindred Healthcare and another deal with Aya Healthcare to outsource more than $150 million in clinical, non-clinical and IT jobs at all five university medical centers -- UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange County, UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, UC San Diego Medical Center and UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco.

A third charge involves the university sending out a request for proposal, or RFP, for other contract companies to submit plans to outsource work.

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"Between these three charges, we see plans in detail that we have never seen before of the university's intention to move forward with a radical privatization scheme that is going to fundamentally alter its relationship with its workers," AFSCME spokesman John de los Angeles told UPI. "That's what the workers are striking over tomorrow, that's what they're concerned about."

He added that outsourcing would eliminate jobs that have served as an entry point for many people in the state.

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"These jobs have served as middle-class career ladders for a lot of communities and the university is proposing to eliminate these middle-class jobs," de los Angeles said.

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UC spokeswoman Clair Doan told The Sacramento Bee that union leaders are spreading false information about job displacement, and noted AFSCME membership has grown by 17 percent and member earnings have increased 21 percent this decade.

"UC's contracts with AFSCME bar the university from contracting out for the sole purpose of saving on wages and benefits," Doan said. "UC also can't lay off any AFSCME-represented employee because of a service contract. We are not looking to change those prohibitions."

Doan also said AFSCME leaders rejected an offer to receive greater input in contracting decisions in a joint union-management committee.

Thursday's strike is the fifth by university workers in the past 12 months and the third primarily focused on labor practices.

De los Angeles said the university system has repeatedly denied the legitimacy of the unfair labor practice claims and has instead tried to incorrectly frame the recent strikes as a wage issue.

"The university insists that this is about the union's desire to gain leverage for wages and benefits at the bargaining table, but what good is a wage or benefit if the university is allowed to outsource jobs tomorrow?" he said. "This is about something much more fundamental. This is about job security."

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The 10 UC campuses involved in Thursday's strike are the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Berkeley; UC Davis near Sacramento; UC Irvine in Orange County; UC Merced near Fresno; UC Riverside near San Diego; UC San Diego; UC San Francisco; UC Santa Barbara north of Los Angeles; and UC Santa Cruz in the Central Coast.

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