AFSCME 3299 Fights Back

Against the Current, No. 145, March/April 2010

Kathryn Lybarger

IN FEBRUARY 2009, four months after the economy crashed, the members of AFSCME Local 3299 ratified a contract with the University of California that has rightfully been called “historic” for the relative gains won by the union on wages and the wage structure. The union represents service and patient-care technical workers, who struggled for more than 18 months to win this agreement.

With the ink barely dry on the signatures, UC notified the union that it intended to contract out the bus service at the Lawrence Berkeley Livermore Lab (LBNL), because they simply didn’t want to manage it anymore.

That spring, UC management warned of the need to make cuts to campus services. By early summer, the UC Office of the President started talking about “shared sacrifice:” everyone in the UC system would have to take a furlough.

UC management approached AFSCME and asked if the union’s low-wage workers would agree to accept furloughs and layoffs in exchange for … nothing. In the face of continued raises and bonuses for UC’s executives, the union refuses to this day to accept the furlough program and forfeit what it gained in its recent contract fight.

Workers and students at Berkeley formed the Student Worker Action Team, or SWAT, in June as an independent organization to fight the budget cuts. SWAT organized UC Berkeley’s first teach-in against the cuts in July, where we demanded to know how the university could ask us to share the pain when we had not been asked to share the gains.

UC unions organized buses to carry workers and students to protest at July’s Regents meeting, as the UC Regents voted to give UC President Mark Yudof “emergency powers” to run roughshod over contracts, workers, students, and services in the name of addressing a budget “crisis.”

The Regents also voted to hand out nearly $2 million in raises and bonuses to UC executives. In response, the UC Union Coalition organized a vote of no confidence in President Yudof, in time for students’ return to Berkeley in August. The vote passed by 97%.

AFSCME offered an alternative budget proposal, which the university has still not considered. The proposal pointed to the $700+ million profits generated by the medical centers, and the $800 million sitting unused in the low-interest mortgage program available to executives, as two ways of many to cover the $800 million shortfall in funding from the state.

AFSCME has worked hard to organize its members to refuse to accept management’s spin on the budget crisis, explaining that the savings gained for UC by the cuts to AFSCME’s members amount to less than 2% of the budget shortfall.

For workers making less than $30,000/yr. in the Bay Area, these cuts mean some families will go back on some form of public assistance, or have no hope of staving off foreclosure. Coupled with the 32% student fee increase, some workers will no longer afford to send their kids to a UC school.

Assaulting Public Education

What UC management gains through the cuts is much more vicious and valuable to them — they gain a crack at privatization. They gain a chance to outsource union jobs, drive down wages, speed workers up, raise student fees while reducing courses and services, ramp up the cost of healthcare, and gouge workers’ paychecks to fund the pension, to which the university has made no contributions in 17 years.

By September, 43 of AFSCME’s service workers at Berkeley were laid off — a quarter of the bargaining unit’s total layoffs statewide. UC Berkeley management had also begun talk of outsourcing its campus bus service, and there are rumors that UCLA management is considering outsourcing as well.

The private bus contract took effect at LBNL on January 19th, 2010. Fourteen union members and allies were arrested on January 20th while preventing a contracted bus from moving. That same day, Regents approved $3.1 million in bonuses for 38 executives.

AFSCME’s members were an active part of the coalitions that organized the September 24th walkout at UC and the days of action in November, and helped facilitate a part of the October 24th Conference to Save Public Education. We demonstrated in support and committed legal resources to aiding students who were arrested in the building occupations of November and December. We are involved in building for the March 4th Strike/Day of Action.

The scope of the attack on students and workers at UC is a full assault on public education itself. This is an attack by UC executives who are bankers and businessmen, in an era when bankers get the bailout and working families pay for it.

The solidarity among UC’s unions, unrepresented workers and students has been invigorating, and absolutely what’s required if we are to win back the UC system for all Californians and, more broadly, restore the right to quality public education.

ATC 145, March-April 2010