Activists chanting “si, se puede” and “UC, escucha, estamos en la lucha” drowned out the traditional “$2 boba” chants at UC Irvine yesterday as workers, students and their supporters rallied and marched during a UC-wide strike by AFSCME 3299 and sympathy strike by UAW 2865. AFSCME represents the university's service and patient-care employees while UAW represents TAs, readers, fellows and other academic employees.
The strike, which comes a day after a Sacramento judge blocked a last-ditch UC legal challenge, focused on the intimidation dozens of workers faced during the earlier May strike.
“Our members have both the legal right and moral responsibility to stand up for the safety of the students and patients we serve,” AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said in a statement. “By attempting to silence workers, UC hasn't just repeatedly broken the law — it was willfully endangered all who come to UC to learn, to heal, and to build a better life for their families.”
The workers are also currently working under the terms of an unapproved contract that saw a pay freeze and higher worker contributions to health care and pensions, resulting in a 1.5 percent decrease of take-home pay. AFSCME and UC have not had a contract for 18 months.
The one-day strike officially began at 12 a.m. with initial picketing starting at 6 a.m, according to the New University. Workers marched around the campus at 9 a.m., and by noon, the crowd had grown to approximately 400 as AFSCME began their rally.
“Every year, the UC has more patients and more students, but not more workers,” said Oscar Martinez, a student-housing worker who spoke during the rally. “We need more staffing.”
Following the rally, workers marched again, first towards a dining hall, where students participating in the march but unaffiliated with the union engaged in a short shoving match with the hall managers. The march then returned to the core of the campus before heading to the corner of Campus and West Peltason Drives, briefly blocking traffic.
The crowd then returned to the university's flagpoles, the site of the rally and earlier picketing.
“I believe that [the strike] is a good thing,” said Ivette M., a third-year political science major who watched the march from a pedestrian bridge. “We should participate. It creates pressure on administration. The workers work hard; they deserve more.”
According to the UC Irvine Director of Media Relations Cathy Lawhon, over 90 AFSCME workers on campus went on strike. At the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, 30 percent of scheduled union members also went on strike, according to UC Irvine Health Public Information Officer John Murray. AFSCME and UAW were unable to provide a hard count of strikers.
In preparation for the strike, the UC Irvine Medical Center hired 230 trained temporary workers and only scheduled two surgeries, though that number climbed to 18 by the end of the day. AFSCME exempted dozens of critical employees from the strike to ensure adequate patient care.
Members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) had been scheduled to join the strike, but the CNA reached a tentative contract with the university over the weekend that contained a no-strike clause.