The University of California’s largest employee union organized protests on all UC campuses Thursday calling for higher wages and a safer working environment, as well as to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the deaths of two union workers.
Hundreds of workers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 union protested in front the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center holding signs saying “Respect the dignity of labor” and chanting “UC cut, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, UC greed has got to go.”
The union, which represents the UC’s service and medical workers, has been bargaining with the UC for its next contract. Protesters said the university has not paid overtime wages to workers and has understaffed many positions and held a moment of silence to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, which followed the deaths of workers on the job.
UC spokesperson Claire Doan said in an email statement that the UC has offered AFSCME fair wage increases, quality health benefits, excellent retirement benefits and additional professional development opportunities. She added the UC has bargained in good faith for service workers and patient care employees.
“We hope the next steps, including a fact-finding phase and assistance from an objective third-party in negotiations for our service staff, will encourage AFSCME to come forward with realistic proposals that lead to an agreement,” she said.
Kathryn Lybarger, president of the AFSCME 3299 union and lead gardener at UC Berkeley, said she is concerned about low wages for UC employees and lack of state funding.
“We are here for equality, security, dignity and fairness,” she said. “These are the things sanitation workers in Memphis were fighting for 50 years ago.”
Lynbarger added even though the UC has always depended on its image as a source of progress and social stability, she think the university should do more to employ workers from different backgrounds.
John de Los Angeles, communications director at AFSCME 3299, said he thinks the university has hurt workers by raising tuition while cutting workers’ benefits.
“Our workers are looking for a wage that can afford them the option of sending their kids to a UC one day,” he said. “(The) UC presents itself as an engine of social mobility, but it has instead become a monument to inequality.”
Past state legislature audits have found the university has unjustifiably outsourced workers’ positions and the UC had unaccounted overtime wages amounting to $1.3 million, de Los Angeles said.
Ruth Zolayavar, a pharmacy tech at the UC San Diego medical center and member of AFSCME’s UC bargaining team, said the UC’s budget cuts have made several positions in the University understaffed.
“Understaffing means not enough personnel, especially reparatory techs, to help in curing emergency patients and hence causing the loss of loved ones daily,” she said. “We forfeit our meals, our health to save patients – we sacrifice every day and we want UC to recognize our dignity.”
Sawlimul Kalam, a valet worker for ABM, facility management company, who worked at the Medical Center last year and lost his job when UCLA decided to insource valet positions, said he finds it difficult to keep up with rising costs and rents while balancing a family of five.
“Regents gave me nothing as compensation,” he said. “Now I’m just doing part-time work to survive on a daily basis.”
Janel Munguia, an undergraduate counselor in the English department, said she attended the event because she wanted to support the union with her fellow employees.
“Having worked for 34 years, I am looking forward to more unionized organizations,” she said. “It’s our wages, our livelihood and our rights.”
Conributing reports from Isabella Gago, Daily Bruin contributor.