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UC unions meet to discuss climate change, plans to go greener

University of California unions and the UC Green New Deal coalition held a joint panel to discuss how to integrate green initiatives into their respective labor goals. (Saumya Gupta/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Saumya Gupta

Feb. 16, 2022 11:35 p.m.

Unions across the University of California met Tuesday to discuss their goals and how they can incorporate climate change and greener initiatives in their union.

Representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Nurses Association, United Auto Workers Local 5810, Student Researchers United – UAW, University Council – American Federation of Teachers, University Professional and Technical Employees, and UC Green New Deal Coalition held a virtual cross-union panel to discuss their respective goals as unions, what they are currently doing and what they hope to achieve in the future.

The unions also spoke about how they would like to incorporate green initiatives in their contracts and what they could do within their unions to work on climate justice, such as endorsing policies. More than 40 people joined the Zoom to listen in and participate in a forum.

Refilwe Gqajela, an external organizer for AFSCME Local 3299 – a union that represents more than 27,000 patient care, service and skilled craft workers – started the cross-union panel by talking about the history of the union and what they are fighting for.

Gqajela said AFSCME Local 3299 started at UC Berkeley when custodians were first able to receive a benefit package. She added how AFSCME Local 3299 went on to fight against race and gender discrimination, rent control and discriminatory practices for union members.

She said the union is working toward economic and racial justice, supporting the rights of women and immigrants and making sure their members are flourishing, such as by ensuring they have a livable wage.

“It’s also not about … fighting discrimination,” Gqajela said. “It’s about thriving.”

Ashley Bernon, a chief nurse representative at CNA, spoke next about the impact of climate change and how nurses and nursing unions can play a role in climate justice.

Bernon said nurses have historically taken on roles during environmental struggles to help minimize negative impacts on health. She added that nurses are aware of the impacts climate change and global warming already have on people’s health from caring for their patients and that these issues will increasingly harm people’s health.

“Nurses have a huge power to influence change,” she said.

Bernon said her union needs to figure out what can be added to their contracts regarding climate and environmental issues. She added that the union needs to pressure the University to achieve certain sustainability goals, such as divesting from fossil fuel use.

CNA recently submitted a letter to the UC Office of the President urging the UC to make stronger commitments about climate control and justice, she said.

“We must use our collective bargaining power and ability to influence change to push for policies that push for climate and environmental justice,” Bernon said.

Some unions, such as multiple UAW units, have already started bargaining or will begin bargaining soon, said Adam Caparco, a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego.

Postdoctoral researchers began bargaining in July, and SRU-UAW will begin bargaining later in February, Caparco said. UAW Local 2865, a union representing more than 19,000 academic student workers, will begin bargaining March 1 and academic researchers will begin bargaining May 1, he added.

During the bargaining, they will be asking for affordable housing or housing stipends, living wages, paid parental leave and other parental benefits, increased support for international and undocumented members, and protection against discrimination and harassment, he said.

He added that the UAW units have also been meeting to talk about implementing greener, equitable transit options such as subsidized transit passes, campus housing and universal basic mobility into their contracts.

While some unions will be starting the bargaining process, UC-AFT – the union representing lecturers and librarians – was able to reach a tentative agreement in November, said Alison Lipman, chair of a climate action committee within UC-AFT.

[Related link: UC Lecturers cancel planned strike after reaching new contract agreement]

Lipman said their new contract contains some job security where workers are able to get rehired if they did their job well and will be considered over outside employees.

She added that the union has been consistently fighting for job stability and fair salary among other goals, such as benefits and an increased investment in education.

“One of the big things we’ve been fighting for in our recent contract campaign is that the UC actually invests in education instead of putting all the money into research (and) into all the other things,” Lipman said. “They’ve mentioned education as the number one priority of the University, … but the amount invested in actual education is very low.”

In addition to its contract negotiations, UC-AFT also recently formed a climate action committee.

Lipman, chair of the committee, said the committee took its first actions by submitting comments on the UCLA Stability Plan. The committee also has goals to collaborate with other unions and to incorporate environmental efforts into their contract negotiations.

UPTE Communication Workers of America 9119 also has their own climate committee.

Brianna McGuire, a member of UPTE CWA 9119 – which represents technical and professional workers – said the union has had a Green New Deal committee for a few years and they have made some progress.

She said the union has endorsed different statewide platforms, such as Senate Bill 260, which would require corporations to report their greenhouse gas emissions and their plans to continue to work on other endorsements.

McGuire added that UPTE would also like to work with other unions this year to help echo their demands and build solidarity.

“There are so many opportunities for collaboration here and I am so stoked about it,” McGuire said.

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Saumya Gupta | News senior staff
Gupta was the 2020-2021 assistant News editor for the national news and higher education beat. She was previously a contributor for the beat. She is also a fourth-year psychology student.
Gupta was the 2020-2021 assistant News editor for the national news and higher education beat. She was previously a contributor for the beat. She is also a fourth-year psychology student.
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