UC service workers strike

 

A long-threatened strike by University of California service workers became a reality July 14 as some 8,500 employees set up picket lines.

The workers – hospital cleaners and disinfectors, cafeteria employees and security personnel – were joined by some hospital nurses and other professionals who chose not to cross their picket lines.

The strike was called in protest over what the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees calls “poverty wages.” The union mustered a vote of 97.5 percent in May to authorize the strike.

 

The University’s ten campuses and five hospitals are affected by the strike, but University officials insisted that the strike so far has caused only “minimal impact.”

The strikers are protesting wages as low as $10 an hour, at a time when food and gasoline prices have risen dramatically.

The striking employees are demanding that wages be brought in line with employees of state community colleges. Many service workers depend on public assistance to help feed and house their families, according to an AFSCME statement. Also, according to the statement, UC workers are making as much as 25 percent less than comparable employees at state colleges.

The union says many service employees have to augment low pay with taxpayer-funded food stamps, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children coupons, public housing subsidies and subsidized child care.

 

“UC executives don’t pay service workers enough to survive, but expect taxpayers to pick up the tab in the form of public assistance,” said Lakesha Harrison, a UC licensed vocational nurse and president of AFSCME Local 3299.

“We expect that from Wal-Mart, not from the University of California, a public institution. That’s double dipping,” she said.

The strike was called for five days, starting July 14.

University spokespersons say that UC hospitals have not had to cancel any scheduled surgeries, and emergency rooms remain open.