UC service workers hit picket lines for three-day strike

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Thousands of University of California service workers continued a three-day strike Tuesday at campuses and medical facilities across the state, including at UCLA and UC Irvine Medical Center.

Service workers represented by Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize a strike if no progress were made in negotiations.

UC officials have repeatedly criticized the union for calling the strike, accusing the labor group of rejecting an offer of ``fair, multi-year wage increases and excellent medical and retirement benefits.''

The strike got off to a rocky start at UCLA, where a motorist apparently got impatient around 9:45 a.m., and tried to drive through the picketers crossing a street. Police and witnesses said a man in an SUV became irritated when union members were marching through the intersection of Westwood Plaza and Le Conte Avenue. Witnesses said the man initially got out of his SUV with some type of stick and threatened the picketers.

``He jumped back into his car, he gasses it,'' one union member told KNX Newsradio. ``I'm holding on to his hood. He brakes, I thought he was going to stop, and as soon as I'm trying to move he gasses it again and I just grabbed on again and as he's driving I'm telling him to slow down.''

UCLA Police said three picketers were treated for minor injuries at the scene. The driver was taken into custody, although he appeared to have some difficulty breathing while being arrested and was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to be checked out, police said.

There were no other reports of any other clashes involving union protesters.

In light of the impasse in contract talks, the university system last month imposed contract terms on the union for the 2017-18 fiscal year, including 2 percent pay increases. The UC's latest contract offer to the union included annual 3 percent raises over the next four years, according to the university.

The union denounced the move to impose contract terms, responding by issuing a notice of a strike set to last until Wednesday.

``We've bargained in good faith for over a year to address the widening income, racial and gender disparities that front-line, low-wage workers at UC are living every day,'' AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said. ``Instead of joining us in the effort to arrest these trends, UC has insisted on deepening them -- leaving workers no option but to strike.''

UC officials issued a statement saying they ``strongly disagree with AFSCME's decision to strike, which will negatively impact patients, students and the UC community.''

``We are doing everything in our power to limit disruptions on our campuses and medical centers to ensure our patients get the care they need and our students the services they deserve,'' according to the UC.

The UC insisted that its service workers -- including custodians, gardeners, food service workers and facilities maintenance staff -- are compensated at or above the market rate, ``and in some cases, by as much as 17 percent higher than comparable jobs.''

University officials said the union is demanding a 6 percent annual wage increase, ``which is twice what other UC employees have received.''

They said their final officer included, in addition to the pay raises, a lump-sum payment upon contract ratification, health benefits consistent with those of other workers and continuation of pension benefits for existing employees. New employees would be given a choice between a pension or 401(K)-style retirement plan.

Lybarger, however, accused the university of ``subverting'' the bargaining process by imposing contract terms on workers.

``Administrators are already showing us that we can expect more unequal treatment if we don't stand up, fight back and hold UC accountable to its hollow claims of `pioneering a better future,''' Lybarger said.

According to the union, the strike will involve 9,000 service workers, but they will be joined by more than 15,000 Patient Care Technical workers.

The union represents workers such as security guards, groundskeepers, custodians, respiratory therapists, nursing aides and surgical technicians. The workers span UC's 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics and research laboratories, according to the union.

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