UC Nurses, Hospital Staff Join Service Workers' Strike

1 min

Striking University of California service workers got reinforcements Tuesday, as nurses and technical staffers joined them on the picket lines outside medical centers around the state.

Outside UCSF’s Parnassus campus in San Francisco, union members beat drums, shouted through megaphones and chanted throughout the day.

Negotiations between the university system and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 broke down after more than a year of bargaining.

The two parties failed to agree on wage increases, outsourcing jobs to non-union contractors and the minimum retirement age.

Maricruz Manzanarez, an AFSCME member who cleans dorms at UC Berkeley, says workers like her struggle to support their families due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

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“For us it’s the fight of our lives. If the university was doing the right thing from the get-go, we don’t have to go through this,” Manzanarez said.

About 25,000 AFSCME workers -- mostly custodians, cafeteria workers and gardeners -- walked off the job Monday.

The California Nurses’ Association and the University Professional and Technical Employees, which are also in contract negotiations with UC, called a sympathy strike for Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Our hearts are torn. We want to be inside taking care of patients but we know that we need to be outside supporting our brothers and sisters from AFSCME,” said UCSF recovery nurse Erin Carrera.

UCSF’s Chief Operating Officer Sheila Antrum said the hospital hired about 350 temporary registered nurses to staff its facilities around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Antrum said UCSF will deliver essential patient care services, but hundreds of surgeries and thousands of appointments have been rescheduled.

The union wants annual pay increases of 6 percent, a freeze on health care premiums and an end to outsourcing jobs to low-paid, non-union contractors. AFSCME rejected the university's latest offer of 3 percent.

University officials have said service workers are already earning market-rate wages, and that it cannot afford the raises the unions are demanding.

The average striking worker earns $40,000 a year and can't keep up with the high cost of living in the Bay Area, said union spokesman Todd Stenhouse.

The labor action comes during finals week at UC Berkeley.

Sen. Kamala Harris announced Monday that she would not deliver the keynote speech at Berkeley’s commencement ceremony on Saturday as planned. Instead, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ will deliver the keynote address.

AFSCME has called on speakers to boycott UC campuses.

The UC system, which includes five medical centers and three national laboratories, has 190,000 faculty and staff and 238,000 students.

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