by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
LOS ANGELES – Dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, holding up a sign reading “Service Workers on Strike: Taking Back UC” Rodolfo Aquino was one of many Filipino University of Calfornia service workers employees on the picket line marching in front of the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical center for fair wages.
“We are the lowest paid employees among all the UC campuses,” said Aquino. “Striking is the right way to do it.”
About three hundred service workers and supporters picketed in front of the brand new UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center Monday, starting the first of a five-day strike.
Throughout the state, thousands of union members from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, which represents about 8,500 UC service workers at 10 campuses and five hospitals, marched in solidarity for fair wages.
Meanwhile, UCLA hospital officials are concerned that the strike is affecting the care of UC medical patients.
The AFSCME also represents more than 11,000 patient care workers and patient care technical units. Leading up to the strike, UC Officials were afraid that many of the workers would cross the picket the lines, leaving many patients unattended for the week.
“Right now, it’s on a shift to shift basis,” said UCLA Chief Medical Officer Dr. J. Tom Rosenthall to the Asian Journal. “We don’t know who’s going to come in for work or strike. So far, many have come in for work. We were afraid that we would have to close down the emergency room because we can’t operate without them.”
He added that the union disregarded a San Francisco judge’s order that the five-day strike poses an immediate danger to UC hospital patients.
“We believe that the union should follow the law,” he said. “The union believes that a restraining order is a minor technicality.”
On July 11, a San Francisco federal court granted a temporary restraining order against the AFSCME from pursuing the five-day strike.
However, the AFSCME continued forward with their plans to strike.
According to union leaders, the paramount issue is fair wages. With the increase in lifestyle costs skyrocketing nationwide, union leaders said that service employees, who work as gardeners, janitors, cooks and servers across campus, just couldn’t afford to support their family with their current salary of $10 an hour.
Aracelli, who did not want to disclose her last name for fear of retribution, said that she’s been working as a custodian for UCLA for the past ten years and has only received a raise in salary maybe one or two times. She said her salary is less than $11.
“It doesn’t really matter if they give you a raise anyways,” said Aracelli, who originally hails from Ilocos Norte, Philippines. “The money you make goes away because they increase [campus] parking, and food cost. They automatically deduct your parking from your paycheck every month like $60 or $70.”
UC Representative Nicole Savickas said that they have offered to increase the service employee’s hourly rates from $10.28 to $11.50 or $12 including health benefits on a “sliding scale” and pension benefits.
“The University of California is disappointed that AFSCME has chosen to strike, despite the court’s ruling prohibiting such activity,” said Howard Pripas, executive director for systemwide labor relations at the University of California. “More importantly, we regret that we have not been able to reach an agreement with the union and hope its leadership will return to the bargaining table so we can continue our discussions. Our employees deserve good contracts and they deserve them now. Our offers would result in wage increases worth well over $125 million and good benefits.”
The union rejected their last offer.
Aquino, who works a second part-time job to support his family in the Philippines, said that the UC’s latest proposal is still not enough.
“We’re doing this for our family and other employees,” he said. “We all want to be respected and get a fair wage.”