UC Workers Strike as Faculty, Students Boycott Classes

University of California faculty, students, and workers rallied against state budget cuts and unfair labor practices at 10 campuses and five medical centers from San Diego to Davis on September 24.

As a boycott of classes to protest teachers’ unpaid days off (furloughs) and students’ double-digit fee increases unfolded across the state, members of the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America, Local 9119, AFL-CIO, staged a one-day strike.

The driving force unifying the protesters is the state’s budget crisis.  That shortfall between tax revenue and spending following the housing bubble crash has spawned deep cuts in funding for public higher education: the UC system, the California State University’s 23 campuses and the state’s 110 community colleges.

Against this backdrop, UPTE has been bargaining with UC for 18 months.  During this time, UC management has not been bargaining in good faith with the union, according to Kevin Scott, a UPTE activist and a UC Davis staff researcher.

“With the furlough program, we have attempted to bargain with UC to reach a compromise that works for everybody,” he said.  “If only UC would open its books to us and prove to us that this cost reduction from furloughs would actually be required.  But UC keeps the books closed, does not let us see the numbers.  They just say this is how it is and you had better accept it.”

UC seeks the freedom to impose layoffs and furloughs on UPTE members unilaterally by sidestepping collective bargaining, according to Scott.  The union represents 12,000 workers — lab assistants, computer techs, theater staff, animal care techs, sign language interpreters, museum scientists — at all UC campuses andLawrence Berkeley National Lab.

The UC Office of the President did not return a request for comment on contract talks with UPTE.

Lisa Kermish is a UPTE vice president and administrative analyst at UC Berkeley, who spoke from Sproul Plaza at the campus.  “Today is a remarkable show of our union members and supporters coming out in solidarity and coalition with faculty, students, and other unions,” she said.  “I haven’t seen crowds like this since the 1980s South Africa apartheid divestment movement and 1960s Free Speech Movement.”

UPTE’s union supporters are: the American Federation of Teachers (librarians and lecturers); United Auto Workers (graduate students); Coalition of University Employees (clerical workers); and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (service workers). UC faculty, students, and workers have three audiences, at minimum, to convince in the wake of California’s fiscal shortfall of $24 billion: state lawmakers, UC management, and the general public.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento.  Contact: <ssandronsky@yahoo.com>.