UC Union Workers Cite Abuse, Unfair Labor Practices

“The UC regents want to wear us down but we have 24,000 members ready to go on strike at any time!" one worker says.

(Photo: Lia Russ)

“We’re fired up! Won’t take it no more!”

Dozens of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 union members chanted as they picketed outside UCSF’s Parnassus campus on Wednesday.

AFSCME Local 3299 alleges that the University of California has regularly engaged in unfair labor practices, such as creating an atmosphere of bullying and harassment, and verbally and physically abusing striking workers during the last strike they participated in on March 20 in support of UPTE, the union that represents health care coordinators and researchers. In response, AFSCME called for a one-day unfair labor practice strike on Wednesday, April 10, the latest episode in an ongoing labor struggle between various bargaining units and the University of California.

Edgar Perez, a surgical technician who has worked at UCSF for 20 years, says that during one strike last May, he wasn’t scheduled to work but had gone to the hospital to check up on his union members as part of his duties as a strike captain. A security guard took issue with this, claiming he would call for backup to remove Perez if he didn’t leave, and then physically threatened him.

“He said, ‘If you don’t move, I’m gonna bust your head,’” says Perez. He reported the incident to his supervisor, who did nothing. He eventually went above his supervisor and reported it to the management in charge of the strike, who were able to see that the security guard was removed, but the incident was jarring for Perez.

“They escorted me to the front desk in front of everyone,” he said. “I was treated like a criminal. I had a right to be there, even if I wasn’t on the schedule.”

Other tactics Perez says they’ve pulled in the time since have included waiting and watching whenever workers clock in and out for breaks and at the end of the day, adding to the sense that management is watching the union members at all times.   

John de los Angeles, the Communications Director for AFSCME Local 3299, says that it’s a statewide problem within the UC system.

“At UC Merced, there was workplace retaliation. The harassment was so intense, one member had to go on paid leave because of psychological stress.”

De Los Angeles also pointed to what he called the most egregious incident, in which a UC employee repeatedly tried to drive his car into a crowd of striking workers and student supporters last February.

Naomi Nakamura, a pharmacy technician who makes IV bags for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, echoed Perez and de los Angeles.

“UC has been physically and verbally abusive, especially during the latest strike,” says Nakamura.

“They’re intimidating workers and telling lies, like that the union will fine people if they don’t picket, they’re trying to prevent people from striking and voicing their right to strike and speak out about unfair labor abuses.”

Perez also says that management has emailed and sent letters to members telling them that the union can drop them at any time.

“The management style at UC is very unilateral, very top-down. We can’t approach management at any time because they’re always on the defensive and they blame the workers.”

He also adds that management has worked hard to make workers feel disposable.

“They told us, ‘You can be replaced at any time, you’re all paid well enough to not merit increases.’ We’re number-one not because the CEO makes millions of dollars, it’s because we work on our patients. How can we be considered the best when there’s strikes all the time and workers aren’t happy? When they’re being treated like second class citizens?”

Despite this, the reception the unions have received outside of the hospital has been mostly positive.

“The public knows how hard we work,” says Nakamura, “They support our decision to go out and strike.”

Perez quips, “The UC regents want to wear us down but we have 24,000 members ready to go on strike at any time!”

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