University of California Workers Strike for Fair Pay and Respect on the Job

UC worker with back to the camera wearing a green shirt that reads, "We Run UC" and a sign, "AFSCME 3299 On Strike. Safe Staffing Now."

The University of California workers who walked off the job on Monday included thousands of custodians, security guards, gardeners and other service workers. (Photo by David Kreisman)

More than 20,000 members of AFSCME Local 3299 who work for the University of California have walked off their jobs to protest the growing inequality within the UC workforce, including yawning income gaps between administrators and workers and widening racial disparities.

Juan Donto, a grounds keeper at UC Santa Barbara, said he works three jobs to provide for his family. He was among the Local 3299 members taking part in the three-day strike, which began Monday.

“Each week, I’m missing out on their lives,” Donto said. “I barely get any quality time with my children. It’s not right that the UC is known for its upstanding reputation when their workers have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. It’s not right that Latinos and African Americans are making a least 20 percent less than their white co-workers. I ask you, why does it take an African American woman six years to make the (starting) salary of a white man?”

Monica de Leon, a hospital unit services coordinator at UC-Irvine, explained why she and her fellow AFSCME members are protesting.

“Together we’re standing strong to fight for the equality and respect we deserve,” she said. “We keep the UC running safely and smoothly and should be treated as the vital community members we are.”

Isaac Zamora, a respiratory therapist at UC-San Diego and an AFSCME member, said the hospital where he works has been putting profits over patients for too long, leading to “acute and chronic short-staffing” in every clinic. He knows because his wife is a cancer patient at the hospital.

“When my wife comes in and we want to get the results of one of her recent cancer scans or biopsies, good luck,” Zamora says. “You got to wait because they’re chronically short-staffed. To me, it’s unfair to my family and it’s unfair to my kids. I know how important quality patient care is. That’s why my entire family is here [on the picket line].”

Isaac Zamora, a respiratory therapist at University of California-San Diego, addresses a crowd of striking UC workers.

Isaac Zamora (in white), a respiratory therapist at University of California-San Diego, speaks during a strike to protest inequality within the UC workforce throughout the state. (Photo by Justin Lee)

The workers who walked off the job on Monday included thousands of custodians, security guards, gardeners and other service workers. They are joined in a sympathy strike by 29,000 nurses, pharmacists, radiologists and other medical workers. Essential patient-care services would continue to be delivered.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders issued a statement of solidarity with UC workers and AFSCME members. It isn’t just hard for working families to make ends meet, he said, but the university’s unwillingness to address the race- and gender-based pay inequities in its workforce is making “a challenging situation untenable for so many university employees.”

“University of California employees never quit working hard to strengthen their campuses and communities,” Saunders said. “For their commitment to public service, they deserve the respect of fair wages and fair treatment. Instead, they are held down by a system of entrenched inequality that’s driven by outsourcing, with women and workers of color paid substantially less than their white male peers, and a disproportionate share of pay increases going to the wealthiest university officials.”

(Contributing: Jashua Bane, David Kreisman and Justin Lee).