Health care workers with AFCSME Local 3299 picket outside UC San Francisco Medical Center in response to stalled contract talks with the University of California on the first day of a planned three-day strike on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The willful ignorance and elitism of UC regents

On the morning of December 1st, hundreds of the University of California’s lowest paid workers fanned out across the state to visit eight different members of the UC Board of Regents on the streets outside their homes.

We were peaceful and polite. But we’d been left with little alternative.

While presenting itself as a beacon of social and economic mobility to the public, UC has long been engaged in a campaign to stifle the aspirations of its most vulnerable workers—outsourcing thousands of what would otherwise be living wage UC jobs to private contractors that pay much less.

A 2017 State Audit put a spotlight on the problem, accusing UC of not “justifying their decisions to displace university employees” in favor of lower paid contractors and underpaying them, among other abuses.

Subsequent research has suggested that these practices are contributing to widening income, racial and gender disparities at UC—and eroding what were once middle class careers for people of color.

For the last two years, AFSCME Local 3299 has made no secret of the fact that rectifying this problem, and rebuilding the career ladders that have been destroyed by UC’s growing reliance on outsourcing was our number one priority.

In 2018 alone, both of our major bargaining units—UC service and patient care technical workers—waged multi-day, statewide strikes over the issue and the inequality it produces. We were joined by unions representing as many as 53,000 of our colleagues. We’ve written letters, called legislators and spoken out at Regents meetings. Students have stood with us in solidarity.

UC’s response has been to bypass collective bargaining and unilaterally impose contract terms on both units—flattening wages, raising health premiums, and refusing to even acknowledge outsourcing.

Through it all, the Regents have turned a blind eye, while rubber stamping a new round of raises for UC’s highest paid administrators. This group of workers already saw their pay rise by 64% between 2005 and 2015.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of frontline UC workers—custodians, groundskeepers, patient care assistants, Operating Room Techs and others—are struggling to support their families on wages that pay more than 90% less, and in jobs that might well be outsourced tomorrow.

With this as context, the principals of privilege serving on the UC Board of Regents shouldn’t have been surprised to see us on the morning of December 1st. But frankly, we have been surprised by their willful ignorance about a problem that can hardly be considered secret at this point.

The Regents can choose to end this dispute, and pioneer a better future for more than just the University’s high paid elites. But only if they start doing their jobs, and stop outsourcing ours.

Liz Perlman is the Executive Director of AFSCME Local 3299, which represents over 25,000 University of California Service and Patient Care Technical Workers. Learn more at www.afscme3299.org.

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