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With Renewed Conviction, University of California Workers Strike for Fair Pay and More

Photo Credit: Justin Lee
With Renewed Conviction, University of California Workers Strike for Fair Pay and More
By AFSCME Staff ·

University of California workers are striking for the second time this year with renewed conviction in their demands for fair pay, safe staffing and improved patient care. More than 15,000 patient care technical workers in all five UC medical centers were joined by more than 9,000 university service workers and 15,000 university professional and technical employees.

Altogether, some 40,000 university employees joined together to stand up against extreme income inequality at the university, including gender- and race-based inequality, and for respect on the job. Patient care technical workers and service workers are members of AFSCME Local 3299, and professional and technical employees are members of UPTE-CWA 9119.

The workers are protesting the outsourcing of jobs that has led to a decline of 37 percent in the number of black workers at UC since 1996, to quote but one figure. Outsourcing, as well as extreme income inequality at the medical centers, are threatening workers’ pay, benefits, retirement security, as well as safe staffing, patient care and workplace safety.

To Mohammed Akbar, an operating room assistant at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, it’s about treating the workers as individuals and showing them the dignity and respect they deserve.

"As employees, we treat every patient with dignity and respect. We treat them the same no matter their gender, race or background,” Akbar says. “We deserve that same dignity and respect from UC. They can start by giving us a fair and just contract and stopping the outsourcing of our work.”

Akbar, 35, is a single father of three. He says he is raising his sister’s children after she was murdered by her husband in 2013. To him, there’s a lot at stake: his ability to provide for them, especially if the administration gets away with increasing his family’s health insurance costs.

“I like helping people, that’s why I went into this line of work,” Akbar says. “That’s why a lot of our union’s members do the jobs they do: they want to help somebody. When a patient is in our care, we don’t look at what gender or race they are, we treat everyone the same. That’s what we’re asking from the university, because a big issue is that minorities, including women and people of color, are being paid less than they deserve.”

Ruth Zolayvar, a pharmacy technician at UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center, says outsourcing at the university is hurting patient care.

“I love working with my patients, but many positions similar to mine are being outsourced,” she says. “We’re spending more and more time training contract employees. Because their pay is so low and the opportunities are so few, there is a constant cycle of new contract employees that need to be trained. UCSD employees spend more time training employees who leave within a month and less time providing vital patient care.”

Teresa Ramos, a biller at at UC-Irvine, says she’s striking for her family and for the patients she serves.

“Being a single mother with two children, one of whom has autism, I’m the sole provider for them,” she says. “I’m striking to address the unfairness, the inequality, and to improve patient care in the U.C. system. I get no help from any other source, but I’m sacrificing three days of pay because this fight is so important.”

The three-day walkout, which ends Thursday, follows a similar strike at the university back in May, led by 20,000 service workers who were joined by 29,000 medical workers. As during the first walkout, essential patient care services will continue to be delivered at all medical centers.

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