The Good Fight: Striving for Equality in the UC System

This is part of a series highlighting the efforts of organized labor and featured in Labor 411’s print directories. Click here to order your copy and support Labor 411!

By Oren Peleg

The University of California (UC) has been expanding a troublesome practice – the hiring of contractors. That means the work of full-time UC employees is being outsourced to cheaper, unrepresented workers.

It’s an issue that’s near and dear to Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME 3299, the UC’s largest employee union. Lybarger, who lives in Oakland, California, doubles as UC’s lead gardener trimming trees and manicuring lawns to keep its 10 campuses across the state beautiful. But what’s a beautiful campus if the working conditions are ugly?

“We’re 19 months into this fight and we’re not back at the table,” Lybarger, said recently. “The University has yet to respond to our top core demand, this issue with contractors.”

For many of Local 3299’s roughly 24,000 UC employees in medical centers, clinics, laboratories and at the UC Hastings College of Law, job security is on the line. Organizing efforts have included two separate three-day strikes; one back in May followed by another in October.

“We don’t hate contractors. We hate inequality,” she said. “For us it’s about leveling the playing field. It’s about putting a stop to the widening inequality gap and making the UC system a response employer.”

Racial justice is also permeating the fight against expanded contractor hiring in the UC system. Using UC-published data, Local 3299 researchers have discovered a troubling trend.

“The work being outsourced to contractors is being done by immigrants and people of color,” Lybarger said. “You’ve got to ask, why are 37% fewer African Americans being directly employed by the UC system but there’s a massive increase in the use of contractors?”

One challenge Local 3299 faces is bringing the UC to the table for is the relative lack of state regulation it’s subject to. Unlike the California State University (CSU) system and the California Community Colleges System (CCCS), UC is autonomous and doesn’t face as much oversight.

“Our members are clear that if we need to keep fighting and strike again, we’ll do what it takes,” Lybarger said. “We’re in it to win it.”

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