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AFSCME Local 3299 demands higher wages, divestment at UC Board of Regents meeting

Pictured is Michael Avant, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, making a speech outside the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. Protesters gathered outside the UC Board of Regents meeting to call for better contracts and protections for union workers. (Megan Cai/Photo editor)

By Dylan Winward

March 20, 2024 2:27 p.m.

This post was updated March 21 at 10:35 a.m.

Around 100 protesters gathered outside the UC Board of Regents’ meeting Wednesday to call for better contracts and protections for service, patient technical care and skilled craft workers.

The protesters – led by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents patient care and service workers – gathered outside the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center to call for the University to provide increased wages for workers and divest from Blackstone, an asset management company that invests in local real estate. Blackstone’s purchasing of properties near University campuses has driven up rent prices, forcing workers to move away, said Enrique Rosas, the service unit vice president with AFSCME Local 3299.

Protesters chanted slogans such as “UC, UC, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should,” and “If we don’t get no housing, you don’t get no peace.” They were joined by members of other groups, such as UC Divest, who have been staging a sit-in outside the conference center since Tuesday evening against the board’s Item J1. The board item would prohibit political statements from being posted on University website homepages – an action that some have said specifically targets pro-Palestinian speech. 

[Related: Protesters sit in at Luskin Conference Center ahead of UC Regents vote on Item J1]

Members of the union attempted to speak during public comment at the meeting but were not allowed, said Michael Avant, president of AFSCME Local 3299, in a speech to protesters. One of the union’s demands was for housing assistance to be provided to the University’s essential workers, Rosas said. 

“We have been here since the pandemic started. We have lost coworkers to COVID. We have been through the inflation,” Rosas said. 

Jacob Niles Creer, an operating room worker at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said housing is a primary concern for union members, adding that he hopes the regents will divest from Blackstone. 

[Related: AFSCME Local 3299, community members call on UC to divest from Blackstone]

The union also called for protests at UC campuses across the state, including UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UC San Diego.

“We have members all across Southern California that are participating in these actions to show the UC that we’re serious about our demand, and that we want a fair contract now, and that we need affordable housing,” Creer said. 

Rosas said he also believes the University has not bargained in good faith with service workers, adding that he thinks its press releases do not align with what has been told to the union’s bargaining team. For example, Rosas said one press release stated that the University had made a specific offer to the union, when, in fact, it had not. 

“We are the backbone to this University, and the University does not want to bargain in good faith to give us what we deserve,” he said. 

Pictured are union members with signs calling for more housing assistance from the UC. (Megan Cai/Photo editor)

UC Office of the President spokesperson Heather Hansen said in an emailed statement that the University is participating in ongoing negotiations with the AFSCME Local 3299 workers to ensure a salary increase is part of the union’s new contract. She added in the statement that negotiations had been ongoing since January, with the next collective bargaining meeting set to happen at the end of the month.

The University proposed a wage increase averaging 26% for employees in the service patient technical care units, Hansen said in the statement.

“While UC has no control over statewide rents or housing costs, we know the cost of living in California is high,” she said in the statement. “By providing employees with competitive wages and regular pay increases, we aim to help our employees with their cost-of-living expenses.”

Other protesters objecting to Item J1 joined the AFSCME Local 3299 workers. Hoku Jeffrey, an organizer with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, said he originally came to protest the regents’ proposal, but he decided to join the workers because he also supports their cause. 

Some protesters said Item J1 was created directly in response to departmental statements about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. However, Rosas said the union was not coordinating with groups supporting Palestine. 

The union plans to continue protesting at future regents meetings if its demands are not met, Rosas said. 

“As we continue to bargain with the UC, we’re going to continue to make actions, not only on every individual campus, but statewide actions as well,” he said. “We’re going to be doing campaigns where we button up – that means we’re going to be wearing buttons in solidarity with our brothers and sisters – ready to fight for this contract.”

Contributing reports by Anna Dai-Liu, science and health editor.

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Dylan Winward | Features and student life editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
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