UC strike is over growing racial, gender inequality
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Last week, nurses’ aids, respiratory therapists, security guards and thousands of other workers who make California’s university system the envy of the nation went on strike.
It’s a big deal when workers give up their pay to join a strike line, especially for lower-wage workers who often live on the margins — a paycheck away from joining the homeless encampments that have swelled in Orange County in recent years here.
So why did workers at UC’s 10 campuses, five medical centers, clinics and research laboratories across the state of California risk such a drastic measure?
Well, if you ask UC spokespeople, it’s all about wages and benefits. That is not true.
If the strike was all about compensation, you’d be hearing a lot more in the press about the double-digit wage increases doled out to the university’s top executives. You’d be hearing about how leadership means leading by example, and how the UC system’s top earners shouldn’t take more than they’re willing to give the rank and file employees.
But these workers are risking everything to speak out about something even more important than that — and their brave efforts raise serious concerns about the competency and moral compass of the UC system’s leaders over the past two decades.
University of California workers are standing together to protest unacceptable and growing inequality among the workforce, driven in part by outsourcing jobs and services to for-profit corporations. They stand together to imagine a future for the UC system that reflects the values taught in its halls and practiced in its medical centers but abandoned when it comes to how UC leaders treat their workers.
Here’s just one example: Since 1996, the African-American workforce in the UC system has declined 37 percent. Many of those jobs have been outsourced to outside companies with poverty wages and no job security.
What’s more, women of color are increasingly hired into the lowest-paying positions in the UC system and are not given the opportunity to advance, resulting in women of color earning 21 percent less than white men in starting wages.
Even the state auditor last year took aim at the university’s contracting practices, finding the UC system was violating its own policies when outsourcing work.
The workers on strike standing together in their union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, want the University of California to address this growing inequality. They want protections against outsourcing, and they want assurances that the UC system will invest in recruitment, retention and training for its workers and provide equal opportunity to advance in their careers.
They want the University of California to help end discrimination on the job, instead of helping perpetuate it.
They are urging the university both at the negotiations table and in the state legislature on behalf of all Californians who rely on the University of California for education and health care. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, also has introduced legislation aimed at requiring UC leaders to track their contractors as another way to ensure adequate oversight of taxpayer money.
So far, UC has unilaterally imposed a contract that will make things worse.
Many OC residents have asked me how they can support the workers as this situation continues.
The strike ended last week, but the workers continue to struggle for fairness. If you agree that the University of California should end its discriminatory employment practices, you can show your support by signing a petition at afscme3299.org/fight-inequality.
And the best way to support these workers efforts is to stand with them. You can learn about future actions on their website. Show up, and let them know you care.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: May 16, 2018