Supporting AFSCME Local 3299 is “sustainable”

This is an Op-Ed. 

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, passed by Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, codified the right of collective bargaining for workers across the United States to prevent unfair labor practices by employers. In other words, labor unions were created and given legal protections to fight for their employees.

However, the struggle for labor rights continues today across the country. A series of movements, legal and otherwise, have been seeking to challenge and undermine the strength of labor unions. In a recent case, Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court ruled that the collection of union fees by public sector unions violates the first amendment — a huge blow to unions’ collective bargaining ability.

Yet, we don’t have to look all the way to D.C. to see our institutions undermine our labor unions. Just take a look outside, to our very own campus. 

Source: the Daily Californian

On October 23rd, AFSCME Local, 3299 began their three day strike on UC Berkeley’s campus with UC Service Workers, and Professional Healthcare, Research, and Technical Workers in solidarity with the University of California’s Patient Care Technical Workers. After a year and a half of labor disputes with the University of California regarding stagnating wage, rising healthcare premiums, increasing the retirement age, and the continuing risk of outsourcing UC jobs, AFSCME 3299 workers approved, with 96% margin, to take to the picket lines. Their biggest concern regards the outsourcing of UC jobs. According to AFSCME, the University of California has increasingly contracted outside labor to perform the same tasks at lower wages and with little to no benefits.

A report by AFSCME Local 3299, published in April 2018, estimated that the UC system hired 7,000 private contract workers to do jobs normally performed by AFSCME-represented career employees. The crux of this issue is that AFSCME employees have seen their own wages and benefits become stagnant as a result of increased competition from non-union workers.This has also pushed workers of color and women out of the UC system. According to the same report, “the proportion of AFSCME members at UC who are Black has shrunk by 37 percent,” from 1996 to 2015. Even among union members, the UC disproportionately hires white and API men to better paying jobs compared to Black, Latinx, and female workers.

The University of California’s response to the strikes was egregious. They called the strike “unnecessary and illegal,” and while they claimed that the strike of Patient Care Technical Workers was an “imminent threat” to patient care, campuses such as UCLA Health ironically hired private contract staff to fill the strikers’ roles — the very action that AFSCME striked against in the first place.

In an official statement regarding the strike, the UC spokesperson, Claire Doan remarked, “Union leaders certainly have the right to express — even scream — their opinions, but the way to a deal is at the negotiating table, not on the picket lines.” Disregarding how belittling those comments are to UC workers and what they are striking for, the UC’s response demonstrates how out of touch they are with the needs of their employees. A year and a half of negotiations were not fruitful in providing the basic wage increases and healthcare benefit asked for, and yet they vilify AFSCME for voting to strike

You might be asking, how does this relates to the environment? And you’re right — in many ways, it doesn’t.

Source: AFSCME Local 3299

But, in a broader sense, the AFSCME strikes across the University of California system has everything to do with sustainability and resilience. UC Berkeley is making big moves towards “sustainability.” CalDining has partnered with Cal Zero Waste to reach a zero waste goal by 2020. Additionally, the Office of Sustainability on campus is working to carbon neutrality by 2025.

While these goals are extremely laudable, the UC system is forgetting about one of the most important aspects of sustainability: people. The UC system, and all of us in it, need to start working towards making our campuses more resilient, paying the workers who essentially run our campuses (everyone from the custodial staff, dining hall employees, patient care employees) a livable wage, and making sure they have access to good healthcare. Sustainability cannot come at the expense of massive wage inequality among race and gender lines, the loss of good paying union jobs to contract workers. The UC system’s practice of hiring private contractors only exacerbates this inequality.

The UC needs to make the wellbeing of their workers one of their sustainability goals.

As for us students, it means joining union workers on the picket lines. Many of us saw our classes canceled and assignments postponed with great excitement. It should be with that same enthusiasm that we take up signs and strike alongside our fellow UC Berkeley community members.

Shasun Sulur

Shasun Sulur is a fourth year from Los Angeles, California. He is studying Political Economy and City & Regional Planning with a focus on development and inequality. Shasun is passionate about sustainable development and environmental policy and will illuminate these issues in his blog posts. Aside from the blog, Shasun is also active on UC Berkeley’s Model United Nations team. In his free time, he can be found running, drinking iced coffee, or watching Netflix! Shasun is an editor for the Environmental Justice and Politics team.

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