Upper-level UC administrators have issued intimidating statements threatening disciplinary actions against 7,300 janitors, cafeteria workers, and other AFSCME service workers at UC campuses statewide, as these workers prepare for a joint day of strike today, April 14, 2005.
Gail Brooks, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources at UC Irvine, wrote in an April 11th email obtained by the present writer, "The University believes that AFSCME's planned strike is unlawful, as the parties have not completed the impasse process. The University expects all employees to report to work on April 14. However, if you plan to be absent, notify your supervisor. If you… request leave for illness, you will be required to provide medical documentation upon your return. If… not provided, your absence may not be approved."
A similar notice posted on a UCI Medical Center bulletin board by"Management," obtained by the present writer, states, "The University believes that the planned AFSCME strike violates California labor laws, as UC and the union have not yet completed the impasse process. The University believes AFSCME has failed to participate in the impasse process in good faith and has advised the unions of its position in this matter."
The University had this to say to the present writer. "Only if it is established that the report fails to provide a basis for settlement, only then have the impasse procedures been exhausted," said Noel Van Nyhuis, a Spokesperson on Labor Relations for UCI's Office of the President, who has represented the University system to a number of mainstream media outlets.
However, when asked in a telephone interview what criteria are for "establishing" an impasse, Van Nyhuis said, "I'm not sure. I'll have to check with the Labor Relations Office. I'm not really sure how that's established or how there is a formal establishment of that. I think it has to reach a point where no common ground could be found at all."
"The University did this because they are desperate!' exclaimed Roxana Guevara, Lead Organizer for UC Irvine for AFSCME (statewide) Local 3299. "They really don't want people to honor the picket lines. This is to intimidate people, another tactic to intimidate people from going on strike."
"I think this continues to show bad faith because if they wanted to stop the strike they would make a settlement, but instead they want to stop it with intimidation," Guevara continued.
"The University is mistaken," Craig Merrilees, Statewide Director for AFSCME Local 3299, said. "And we're sorry they're misleading workers who have every right to strike under state law. The University and the workers have fulfilled all the legal requirements. And any University official who threatens, retaliates, or intimidates anyone from exercising their rights will face punishment and legal action. They [the University officials] will be violating the law and could face legal action." "Most of the workers see the University's claims for what they are, a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate workers," Merrilees continued.
"The strike is 100% legal. [The University's claim] is full of bologna. They're trying to make an issue out of nothing," Merrilees said.
Guevara, Lead Organizer for UC Irvine, said, "The managers and supervisors are calling people and saying I need to know if you are going on strike. I need you in my office. And they've been threatening termination. There have been a few letters and email messages [on UCI campus]. Letters were posted on bulletin boards and they have been emailing people."
The crux of the dispute of the legality of the strike between the University and Union is over whether "impasse" was completed and whether the respective parties acted in good faith during the process. Both parties are saying that the other has not acted in good faith.
But the Lead Statewide Bargainer, Paul Worthman, says that impasse has been reached because the University gave a final offer to the Union on April 4th and 5th which was not within the range of contract language the Union was prepared to accept.
University Spokesman Van Nyhuis said he did not believe the University had made a final offer but was not sure.
"March 31st the fact-finder issued her report, and meetings were held on April 4th and 5th with the mediator," said Worthman of AFSCME. "That negotiation was by law based on the report of the fact-finder and was our effort to reach agreement. At the end of these two days [of meetings], the University was not going to make movement on any major issues. At that point, we said that we completed our legal obligation to meet and negotiate."
"What the University wants to say is that we did not finish the bargaining process, but that's bullshit, to use a non-legal term," Worthman said.
"Because the law also provides that there's a ten day period when you're not allowed to make the report public, and [case law has shown the parties are] supposed to do the negotiation during the ten-day period. And when you reach the point when nobody's moving, when that point was reached, you have an impasse," Worthman continued.
"In fact," Worthman continued, "The Mediator reserved, and that's an important word, reserved, April 18th and 19th, and said, if you [the University] or the Union wants to make significant movement, I will hold those dates." Worthman asserts that this proves the state mediator herself acknowledged the reaching of an impasse had transpired.
A separate ten-day notice requirement for strikes in schools and hospitals had also been reached.
As witnessed by the present writer, and covered in local press, the Union did present notice to the University at Irvine campus on April 4th, that they would strike on the 14th unless the University made significant movement.
Worthman said the threatening notices were received by workers on UC campuses statewide. "They were prepared in the President's Office and given to campuses everywhere."
Van Nyhuis confirmed the University had issued the system-wide communication.
"That's what happens with all bosses is they scare and intimidate employees about their legal rights," Worthman said. "UC is among the worst employers, and they're doing what all bad employers do. It's not surprising to me they twist the law to accomplish their goals. UC has a history of losing a series of recent cases before the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB)."
A UCI employee who asked not to be named says the University has a history of threatening workers in this way. In fact, in an email from five years ago regarding the CUE strike, dated October 20, 2000, by Gail Brooks of UCI, the University makes similar threats to their clerical workers.
In other developments, two prominent local leaders have endorsed the AFSCME Local 3299 in their struggle.
California State Senator for the 34th District, Joe Dunn, said in a letter April 7th, 2005, "UCI service workers deserve a contract – one which recognizes seniority, eliminates discrimination and favoritism and allows for a fair wage increase. I am dismayed that although several dozen negotiating sessions have taken place, a contract is not yet signed. It is time for UC management to negotiate in good faith."
City of Irvine Councilman, Larry Agran, a former Mayor and US Presidential candidate, asked UCI Chancellor Cicerone, in a letter dated April 11, 2005, "I am writing to encourage you to do whatever you can, formally as well as informally, to resolve the statewide labor dispute… I support these dedicated workers and their cause. Service workers are undervalued and significantly underpaid," he wrote.
* For more information about the AFSCME strike, please see the first article I wrote on this issue on March 25, 2005.
Matthew Cardinale is a freelance writer, advocate, and graduate student at UC Irvine in sociology and democracy studies. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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