The University of California workers strike just got even bigger

University of California hospital workers want to freeze health care premiums and get higher raises.

David Fuentes, 25, a student in the masters entry clinical nurse program at UCLA,  examines Russell Sherman, 87, a patient. CREDIT: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
David Fuentes, 25, a student in the masters entry clinical nurse program at UCLA, examines Russell Sherman, 87, a patient. CREDIT: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The University of California workers’ strike is expected to grow even larger on Tuesday. Two groups will join striking hospital workers, which include nurse aides, lab technicians, and custodians, in solidarity this week.

More than 20,000 members of the University of California’s largest employee union left work on Monday. Workers at all 10 of University of California campuses and five medical centers are taking part in the three-day strike. The strike will only intensify on Tuesday and Wednesday as the University Professional and Technical Employees and California Nurses Association strike in sympathy with the workers. Put together, those are 29,000 members in support of the hospital strike in addition to workers already on strike.

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The University of California has been at a bargaining impasse with its largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, since last year. The university wouldn’t meet the union’s demands, which include annual pay raises of 6 percent, full pension benefits at the retirement age of 60, and no change in health care premiums, according to the Los Angeles Times. The union also wants the university not to contract out work its members are trained for. The university offered a 3 percent raise and to raise the retirement age for some workers.

Workers are also concerned about the results of a union study on pay disparities and diversity that showed Latinx workers earned starting wages 21 percent lower than white workers. Black workers’ wages were 20 percent lower than white workers. The study, published in April, found that patterns of racial and gender hierarchy were consistent across all campuses.

University of California radiation therapist Reuben Gomez told CBS Los Angeles that most of the hospital workers have two jobs.

“They go to work here, a lot of them go to a second job, just to make it, to survive on the wages they make here,” he told the news outlet.

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The university petitioned the state Public Employment Relations Board to put restrictions on which workers could strike, and the board partially granted their request to keep some difficult to replace workers in hospitals, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“This is just another example of UC trying to diminish the ability of workers to speak up and speak out,” John de los Angeles, spokesman for the AFSCME Local 3299 told Sacremento Business Journal.

The university said the strike hurts patients, a message similar to governors and mayors who have questioned public school teachers’ commitment to students during their strikes. In an email to the Los Angeles Times on Monday, University of California spokeswoman Claire Doan said, “Unfortunately, the only thing union leaders accomplished today is hurt the care we provide our patients and the services for our students. It will do nothing to change UC’s position on AFSCME’s unreasonable demands for excessive raises and benefits.”

The university campuses had plans in place to deal with the loss of workers, such as rescheduling some procedures, closing hospital cafeterias, and hiring contract workers to fill in during the strike. Some classes have been cancelled and student health centers and dining halls had limited hours. UC San Diego had plans for 900 replacement workers to come in during the strike.

There has been at least one altercation during the strike. On Monday, a man tried to drive through a crowd of striking UCLA workers. A protester put his hand on the hood of the man’s car but the car still accelerated. Police stopped the man from continuing to drive. Three of the striking workers were treated for minor injuries, according to CBS Los Angeles.