UC worker strike enters final day

SAN DIEGO -- Thousands of University of California service workers -- joined by nurses, lab workers and members of other unions -- are expected to take part in the final day of a three-day strike Wednesday at campuses and medical facilities across the state, including at UC San Diego's Jacobs Medical Center in La Jolla and UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

The strike began Monday, and the numbers of those marching on the picket line swelled Tuesday as the service workers were joined by nurses, lab workers and members of other unions participating in solidarity. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that about 800 people picketed Tuesday outside the La Jolla medical center, while another roughly 500 people marched outside the Hillcrest hospital.

Service workers represented by Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize a strike if no progress were made in negotiations.

UC officials have repeatedly criticized the union for calling the strike, accusing it of rejecting an offer of "fair, multi-year wage increases and excellent medical and retirement benefits."

In light of the impasse, the university system last month imposed contract terms on the union for the 2017-18 fiscal year, including 2 percent pay increases. The UC's latest contract offer to the union included annual 3 percent raises over the next four years, according to the university.

The union denounced the move to impose contract terms, responding by issuing a notice of a strike.

"We've bargained in good faith for over a year to address the widening income, racial and gender disparities that front-line, low-wage workers at UC are living every day," AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said. "Instead of joining us in the effort to arrest these trends, UC has insisted on deepening them -- leaving workers no option but to strike."

UC officials said in a statement that they "strongly disagree with AFSCME's decision to strike, which will negatively impact patients, students and the UC community."

University hospitals across the state have postponed or rescheduled surgeries that were planned for early this week. On Monday, dining halls at UCSD were closed because of the strike. A UC spokesperson told the Union- Tribune that administrators did not need to transfer any patients out of either hospital because of the shortage of workers.

"We are doing everything in our power to limit disruptions on our campuses and medical centers to ensure our patients get the care they need and our students the services they deserve," a UC spokesperson said in a statement.

The UC insisted that its service workers -- including custodians, gardeners, food service workers and facilities maintenance staff -- are compensated at or above the market rate, "and in some cases, by as much as 17 percent higher than comparable jobs."

University officials said the union is demanding a 6 percent annual wage increase, "which is twice what other UC employees have received."

They said their final offer included, in addition to the pay raises, a lump-sum payment upon contract ratification, health benefits consistent with those of other workers and continuation of pension benefits for existing employees. New employees would be given a choice between a pension or a 401(K)- style retirement plan.

But Lybarger, the union president, accused the university of "subverting" the bargaining process by imposing contract terms on workers.

"Administrators are already showing us that we can expect more unequal treatment if we don't stand up, fight back and hold UC accountable to its hollow claims of `pioneering a better future,"' Lybarger said.

The union represents workers such as security guards, groundskeepers, custodians, respiratory therapists, nursing aides and surgical technicians. The workers span UC's 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics and research laboratories, according to the union.