Ryan Nelson: UC, AFSCME agreement shows change is possible

March 31, 2014

Xin Song/Daily Bruin

Xin Song/Daily Bruin

Ryan Nelson

Three strikes, and the University of California is out.

Or so it appears, given the fact that the yearlong, contentious contract negotiations between the American Federation State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 and the UC ended mere days before the union was set to host its third strike.

It’s a result that shocked many (including myself, a staunch supporter of the union from the beginning), but it’s a considerable victory, especially considering that AFSCME got most of what it wanted, including a freeze on health care rates, wage hikes and greater job security.

These negotiations illustrate a couple of issues. First, that change is slow and painful. It took a year, two strikes, a formal complaint by the state against the UC for illegal bargaining actions and the threat of a third demonstration to finally force the UC’s hand. Second, and more importantly, this process has shown that given the right vision and persistence, there are tangible ways to affect our university for the better.

Fair compensation and benefits for employees hardly solve every problem at the university. An expanding bureaucracy, bloated executive pay, high tuition and issues over campus climate dot a laundry list of grievances against the UC.

These issues can seem insurmountable at times, especially considering the UC’s near-endless supply of lawyers and spokespeople ready to turn at a moment’s notice and insulate the institution from any and all criticism.

If there’s one enduring legacy that can last from this year of negotiations, aside from higher quality of life for 22,000 UC employees, it’s that a focused group of individuals can enact change on large institutions in a legal and peaceful way.

It’s an example that’s already being practiced elsewhere.

The UC Student-Workers Union, UAW Local 2865, which has participated in solidarity strikes with AFSCME, is also planning on taking action this week in response to overcrowded classes and poor working conditions.

At UC Santa Cruz, a planned set of grievance strikes was effective in ensuring better pay and work hours for undergraduate and graduate students alike. The demonstrators there cited AFSCME’s work as part of their inspiration.

For as much gumption as union strikes take, they also require opportunity.

Janet Napolitano has proven herself both perceptive and pragmatic in her time as UC president, and it appears fair to say that a fresh voice in Oakland went far in closing the deal.

Yet, there’s always another issue. A recent campus climate survey showed that one in four UC students believed that they had personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive or hostile conduct on campus.

Meanwhile, in January, the UC Board of Regents gave the green light for a $615,000 base salary for a chief investment officer (which is higher than Napolitano’s).

And in response to harrowing reports on UCLA’s apparent discrimination, the university felt the best course of action would be to create more unwieldy bureaucracy.

Change is slow though, and none of these things will come easily. However, as AFSCME and subsequent protesters have shown, change is definitely possible.

The UC built its reputation as a system stocked with ferocious, intelligent and driven people who weren’t afraid to tackle large institutions. After a lull, it looks like that tradition is back.

[Source]: Daily Bruin

Last modified: June 1, 2017

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