Education

Union workers protesting for higher wages at UC Merced

University of California, Merced workers form a picket line at the intersection of East Bellevue Road and Lake Road near the UC Merced campus in Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Patient care and service workers represented by the AFSCME 3299, have rejected the university's last offer of a 3 percent wage increase. The AFSCME 3299 represents 24,000 workers across the UC system.
University of California, Merced workers form a picket line at the intersection of East Bellevue Road and Lake Road near the UC Merced campus in Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Patient care and service workers represented by the AFSCME 3299, have rejected the university's last offer of a 3 percent wage increase. The AFSCME 3299 represents 24,000 workers across the UC system. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

About two dozen union workers formed a picket line Tuesday at UC Merced, the second day of a planned three-day strike protesting stagnating contract negotiations with the University of California.

They joined the more than 53,000 health care, service, technical and research workers represented by AFSCME 3299, who are striking across all 10 UC campuses.

Brenda Perez is a senior custodian at UC Merced. She said she and her coworkers "deserve a livable wage."

"Most of our service members qualify for financial services and social services," Perez said Tuesday. "They work hard. They're understaffed."

The strike will continue through Wednesday, with members of the California Nurses Association and University Professional and Technical Employees-CWA joining in a sympathy strike Tuesday and Wednesday. AFSCME 3299 represents 24,000 workers across the UC system, including medical assistants, respiratory therapists, health care unit workers, custodians and groundskeepers in its service unit.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Salma Memon, president of the associated students of UC Merced, said many workers have to hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet.

"These workers are primarily low-income people of color, just like the population this university claims to serve, but by refusing their demands and perpetuating wage disparities, UC Merced is failing them," Memon said.

Meanwhile in Southern California on Monday, at the picket line at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, an SUV slowly drove through a crowd of protesters blocking a street outside the medical center, according to the Associated Press. No injuries were reported.

After more than a year of negotiations, the patient-care and service workers, represented by AFSCME 3299, rejected the university’s last-and-best offer of 3 percent across-the-board wage increases and a prorated, lump-sum payment of $750. AFSCME 3299 negotiators have sought wage increases of 6 percent, a freeze on health care premiums and job security that eliminates contracting out jobs for which its members are trained.

“AFSCME leaders are demanding a nearly 20 percent raise over three years – twice what other UC employees have received,” the UC said in a statement. “Labor is the largest single expense in the UC’s budget, and AFSCME service workers <FZ,1,0,47>are already paid at or above market rates.”

The UC is implementing a 2 percent pay increase after AFSCME 3299 rejected the previous offer of 3 percent, according to the UC statement.

“What we’re out here striking for is to raise the issue of inequality in the university,” said Liz Perlman, executive director of AFSCME 3299. “All the people who are on the strike line today are people of color, largely immigrants. And they’re asking for basic fairness and to ensure that the inequality they see at the university doesn’t lead to further outsourcing of their jobs.”

AFSCME 3299 union members receive $70 per day in hardship funds, a spokesman said.

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