In mid-February, the governor of Wisconsin proposed a plan to strip workers’ unions of collective bargaining rights.
Demonstrators have been camping out in the Wisconsin capitol building in protest ever since. But similar bills have popped up in other states ““ including California.
Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, is behind the California proposal. Mansoor’s office acknowledged that while the bill is unlikely to pass in a Democratically controlled state like California, the purpose is to gain political momentum for the effort, said Saulo Londono, capitol director for Mansoor’s office.
To show support for public employees in Wisconsin, dozens of UC workers and union members holding picket signs joined the demonstration in Bruin Plaza on Wednesday.
The workers were rallying alongside students and faculty, who were in the plaza as part of the National Day of Action to defend public education.
Mansoor’s proposed bill targets retirement systems for state teachers, public employees and state judges. UC employees do not fall in these categories. The university has a separate system.
The concern, however, is that if the bill passes, it will lead the UC to restrict collective bargaining in a similar manner, said Lakesha Harrison, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents about 17,000 UC workers.
“People think if Wisconsin can (take away bargaining rights), then we can do it here,” Harrison said. “We’re going to fight it tooth and nail to make sure that (the bill) doesn’t pass.”
Ellis Stewart, head mobilizer and vice president for UPTE-UCLA, the UC union representing professional and technical employees, said it doesn’t matter if the California bill does not directly affect UC employees.
“We are all in agreement that it doesn’t matter whether people work for the state, county or a private corporation. Collective bargaining is a basic worker’s right that everyone should be entitled to,” said Eric Gardner, a graphic designer at the Hammer Museum and member of UPTE.
Londono said the state budget crisis will continue until the state cuts contract negotiation rights.
“The unions agree to concessions that are meaningless and don’t change the system,” Londono said.
With California facing a $25 billion budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 12.5 percent, cuts have to be made, said California State Senator Mimi Walters.
But regardless of the current fiscal crisis or past actions of some unions, wiping out contract negotiation is the wrong reaction, said Chris Tilley, director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
“It’s a question of having a collective voice at the workplace,” Tilly said. “Unions are a basic element of democracy.”
The debate should instead should be focused on how income security and benefits can be extended, Tilly said.