Skilled workers at the University of California-Santa Cruz have gone on strike to protest low pay and inadequate staffing after trying negotiate a contract with UCSC management for two years.
Members of AFSCME Local 3299, the University of California system’s largest union with over 24,000 members across the state, these skilled workers have been forced to do more with less, as staffing levels and compensation have failed to keep pace with UCSC’s growth and rising housing costs.
With negotiations stalled despite their repeated attempts to reach an agreement, the 49 workers – carpenters, plumbers, electricians, HVAC Technicians and other skilled craft workers – were left with no option but to go on strike on Jan. 6 to make their voices heard. These professionals maintain 600 buildings at UCSC, according to a Local 3299 press release.
"Our carpenter’s shop used to have seven guys, now it's down to three. Folks retire and UCSC doesn't rehire. Instead, they contract out our work – that’s union busting,” said Joe Baxter, a UCSC physical plant mechanic.
Since 2008, the student population at UCSC has grown by more than 27%, but the skilled workers’ unit has shrunk and more of their work has been outsourced.
Baxter went on to say that skilled workers at UCSC are often paid far less than their counterparts at nearby institutions and municipalities. In some cases, the wage gap exceeds 30%, according to Local 3299.
"We had no other choice but to strike. UCSC is not meeting any of our core demands,” said Marc Karo, an electrician. “I want to have time to do preventive maintenance as well, not just putting out fires. We need safer staffing levels."
Local 3299 members have long protested outsourcing and poor staffing and UC campuses, going on strikes repeatedly in recent years to call attention to the problems. The most recent systemwide strike was in November 2019.
“UC is driving a race to the bottom for its workers while giving more money to its growing layer of top executives,” said Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger.
“The cost of living in Santa Cruz has skyrocketed, and a raise for these skilled trades workers means they could stop having to work two jobs to make ends meet,” Lybarger added. “Safe staffing for these workers means safer living conditions for UCSC students. UC needs to do right by its workers and students and settle a fair contract now.”