UC Strike Promised Despite Court Order

About 2,000 service workers at UC San Diego and its medical facilities plan to defy a judge's order and walk out on strike Monday morning, joining their counterparts statewide.

About 8,500 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees across California are set to go out on strike, including custodians, landscapers, security officers and cafeteria employees.

UCSD Medical Center custodian Angie Mendoza said union members have been working without a contract since Jan. 31, and have been unsuccessfully negotiating a new contract since last Aug. 31.

The union had a one-day strike three years ago, Mendoza said. "It helped a lot," she said.

According to union spokesman William Schlitz, demands include a livable wage of at least $15 per hour, a "step pay" system that includes an annual compensation increase, and protection for benefits like health care and pensions.

Mendoza, a 46-year-old from Chula Vista, said that she's making $15.19 per hour after 19 years of work for the university system.

AFSCME workers who provide medical support, such as operating room assistants and various laboratory technicians, are also working without a contract, but are not scheduled to strike. They might not be willing to cross a picket line, however.

A judge in San Francisco on Friday said the threatened walkout would irreparably harm UC patients, faculty and students, and banned the strike until the union gives adequate notice. But union leaders said serving formal notice of the strike last Thursday fulfilled that requirement.

Officials at the university system last week said patients at 15 UC medical centers and hospitals across the state will be endangered if the strike happens, and said the strike should be banned because the union has not bargained in good faith. "Our proposals are fair and responsive to many of the union's expressed concerns, and our employees deserve to have these negotiations resolved," said UC labor relations executive director Howard Pripas in a statement Friday.

UC said it has offered a 26 percent pay raise over five years to patient care employees, and raises of about $1.75 to $2 per hour for service employees, depending on the cost of living at each location. The system is also offering enrollment in the same health care and pension systems offered to all UC employees.

But the union says its members are paid "poverty-level" wages of as low as $10 per hour, dramatically below those paid to community college workers. It says 96 percent of its membership is eligible for food stamps, subsidized housing or other welfare-type assistance despite the workers' full-time employment.

"It's unfortunate that after almost a year of negotiating, it has come to a strike," said UCSD employee Angela Vasquez in a statement. "But with gas and food prices, our families are in crisis.

"We cannot wait another month for UC executives to end poverty wages -- my family could be homeless by then," she said.

The AFL-CIO affiliate and the UC system have been at impasse on financial matters since April.

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