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UC cares for those who are highly profitable – everyone else can keep protesting

The University of California reached a tentative agreement with United Automobile Workers 5810 after six months of striking. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 has been striking for years, making it clear that the UC’s priorities in its decisions to negotiate lie wherever the money is. This is unfair to AFSCME Local 3299 workers. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)

By Deepto Mizan

Nov. 25, 2019 1:24 a.m.

This Thanksgiving, employees from all corners of the University of California will make the trek home to be with their families.

But thanks to the UC, many won’t even have basic workers rights to be grateful for at the dinner table.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 has been on a schedule of seemingly never-ending strikes, which is the result of continuously denied negotiations with the UC for better employee contracts.

AFSCME Local 3299 is the largest employee union within the UC. Patient workers, kitchen staff, technicians, maintenance workers and custodians are just a fxew of the 24,000 employees represented.

But after multiple strikes, service interruptions and even the removal of the next Democratic debate from campus, the UC still has not opened the door for further negotiations with AFSCME Local 3299.

On the other hand, the Academic Researchers Union, under United Automobile Workers 5810, has been able to reach a tentative contract in only six months – and with noticeably less demonstration.

It’s clear the UC isn’t completely averse to negotiating with its community of workers.

But, it seems it has preferences for which union gets the fast track – and it clearly lean toward those in high-profile research positions.

In other words, the workers raking in the cash.

The UC’s union negotiation process needs to consider the demands of all unions, not just those that make the University millions in research. Otherwise, the University is actively against its longstanding commitment to the inclusion and well-being of all of its employees – regardless of what sector they contribute to.

Union contracts are more than simply negotiating for a higher wage.

They include essential benefits ranging from health insurance, job security, parental leave, sick days and even immigration and residency policies. All of these are hallmarks of a stable full-time job, yet a 2017 internal audit revealed AFSCME Local 3299 members still face wages below the mandatory minimum.

And it’s not as though the unions had vastly different demands. Both have primarily asked for increased job security and pay. Despite asking for similar benefits, the response has been disproportionate, granting the UAW 5810 a tentative agreement while AFSCME Local 3299 still waits for a response.

Neal Sweeney, vice president of UAW 5810, said that the numerous delays and stops in the bargaining process with the UC can have harmful side effects for employees.

“Many of our colleagues are immigrants who work on limited visas, so the longer it takes, the more the uncertainty,” Sweeney said. “It’s also a time-consuming process, where union members have to balance both their careers while traveling and advocating for better working conditions.”

These negotiations are often the only avenue for addressing work-related concerns. But despite its highly advertised commitment to equity, the UC’s conduct instead reflects a commitment to profit above all else.

Even the more severe cases of airing grievances regarding gender disparities and sexual harassment have been met with unresponsiveness from the UC, according to Sweeney.

But it’s evident that the UC values academic researchers much more than its other workers, considering the University annually receives over $5 billion in grants and contracts for employed researchers.

Meanwhile, John de Los Angeles, a spokesperson for Local 3299, said that there’s a clear lack of priority for its union’s workers.

“The patient workers and the other workers are the backbone of the University and are also the lowest paid of them all,” de Los Angeles said. “No proposals still, and it’s clear that there’s a denial of the legitimacy of our negotiations.”

And that continued denial is symptomatic of the UC’s hesitation to truly open the doors for equitable discussion with all unions.

Otherwise, there would be no need to continue striking.

Christina Priest, a project scientist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Academic Researchers Union negotiations member, says the delayed bargaining process can also result in a standstill.

“Bargaining over six months versus two years, there’s definitely a chance to lose the initial momentum for change with the UC,” Priest said. “And the University’s initial bargaining position is always that the status quo is fine when it’s actually not.”

As Local 3299 continues to strike for better conditions, the service interruptions start to be seen by the students and community as nothing more than an annoyance – when in actuality it’s the result of critical demands falling on deaf ears.

In an emailed statement from Andrew Gordon, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, the bargaining process is required under state law to resolve differences and contracts in a timely manner and in good faith.

For a top research institution, it seems the UC should be able to differentiate between a timely manner and three years of unreturned calls for action.

It’s true, the union bargaining process is not one that can be handled over lunch. Financials, budgets and administrative changes are all aspects that must be considered by both parties to find an appropriate resolution, not simply to reach a compromise. The relationship between the employer and the employee must start with collaboration and respect on both sides.

But it’s hard to say that same respect is offered to every union and employee that works with the UC – especially when one is left waiting indefinitely at the whim of the University.

This holiday season, the UC is once again reaping the benefits from thousands of its own employees.

But for unions, it’s hard to be thankful when you’re not even allowed at the dinner table.

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Deepto Mizan | Opinion columnist
Mizan is an Opinion columnist.
Mizan is an Opinion columnist.
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