Historically, unions benefit all working people — union and nonunion alike — by relentlessly fighting for better wages, health care and retirement security for everyone. This couldn’t be more apparent than AFSCME Local 3299’s most recent fight to gather support for equal pay for University of California’s subcontracted workforce.
Raising the standards of private contractors that provide services to public agencies, including UC, “is the only way to combat the exploitation these practices make possible,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger, also an AFSCME International vice president.
A report recently released by AFSCME Local 3299 shows that as UC grows, it is relying more heavily on private contractors that pay their employees as much as 53 percent less than career UC workers doing the same jobs. The report contends the university's two-tier workforce model is “eliminating middle-class career pathways, and adding to the ranks of California's working poor.”
UC has refused to supply a complete list of its contracts and contractors, but AFSCME has uncovered at least 45 contracts for custodial, grounds keeping, building maintenance, food service, parking and related services in its research. It also has discovered a statewide “request for proposal” seeking contractors to work in the UC Health system.
These private contracts employ thousands of people who do the same jobs as career UC workers. Yet they are paid only a fraction of what career UC employees earn, yet with fewer benefits and no voice on the job through a union.
One such worker is Irene Su, a recent immigrant from China who worked as a custodian at the university’s medical center in San Francisco. Employed by contractor Impec Group, she worked full time alongside career UC employees doing the same job they did with equal experience – even reporting to the same supervisor since 2012. Yet she received as little as $10.74 an hour with no benefits, far less than the UC employees.
“We do the same job for half the pay and twice the uncertainty,” Su said. “Contractors like Impec are retained for years on end by UC, and will fire us for being sick, for speaking up for better working conditions, or for questioning hazardous work assignments. By turning a blind eye to this abuse, UC is literally condemning thousands of families like mine to a life of poverty and second-class status.”
Contract workers say reliable benefits are just as important as a raise. Picking up a second job or requiring taxpayer financed public assistance to make ends meet isn’t uncommon for a contract worker.
California lawmakers introduced SB 376 as a solution. The measure would guarantee employees of private firms providing contract services to the university are paid commensurate wages as career UC employees performing the same jobs. The state Senate recently passed the bill and its now pending in the Assembly.