About 100 community members convened Wednesday in a rally to urge the UC system to raise the wage floor for workers in AFSCME 3299 to $25.
More than 30,000 service, technical patient care and skilled crafts workers across the UC system — and about 900 on campus — are unionized under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, or AFSCME 3299.
On campus, protestors marched through Upper Sproul, gathering in front of California Hall, before returning to Telegraph and Bancroft where speakers addressed AFSCME 3299’s concerns and calls to action.
This rally was part of a string of protests at the eight other UC campuses — all calling on the university to raise wages and strip its multi-billion dollar investments in a controversial firm’s real estate income trust.
Some AFSCME 3299 representees are among the UC system’s lowest-paid workers, according to the union.
“Most of our people are not on the higher end of the pay scale,” said Todd Stenhouse, AFSCME 3299 spokesperson. “Relative to the other people that work in the same facilities they are on the lowest end for sure.”
Across AFSCME 3299 wage scales, about 45% of service worker positions and about 5% of technical patient care worker positions at UC Berkeley earn less than $25 per hour, according to a Daily Californian analysis of April 12 hourly wage data from the UC Title Code Web Inquiry System. And over the past five years, the share of housing cost-burdened service and patient care workers across the UC system mushroomed from 50% to 70%, according to an AFSCME 3299 press release.
In suit, the union has advocated for the “$25/5%” plan, which would institute a systemwide minimum hourly rate of $25 and raise wages 5% for AFSCME 3299 representees who make more than $25 per hour.
Stenhouse said this raise is important for the university to solve its current retention issues and maintain a competitive nature in the labor market since, currently, workers could switch to jobs of similar pay that are closer to their families.
“UC knows there’s an affordability crisis in our communities,” said AFSCME 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger in a press release. “Workers are struggling to afford basic necessities like food and child care. They are unable to live anywhere near work.”
AFSCME 3299 service and patient care workers’ current wages are secured by the union’s contracts with the UC system, which will expire in 2024.
The UC system looks forward to negotiating new contracts with the union fall 2023 to reward AFSCME 3299 workers’ vital role in the university, UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King said in an email. The union, however, urges prompt wage raises.
“In 2017, I think we had half of our membership cost burdened or severely cost burdened,” Stenhouse said. “That is a horrific figure. Today it is 70%. Real wages (considering inflation) are dropping, so this is not some … future contract conversation. This is now — right now.”
AFSCME 3299 has also demanded that the UC system divest from asset manager Blackstone. Recently, the UC system invested $4.5 billion into Blackstone Real Estate Income Trust, or BREIT, as part of a 15-year financial relationship.
BREIT, according to Stenhouse, is partly responsible for exacerbating the statewide housing affordability crisis. He alleged that the firm has a history of buying properties and raising rents, and that the UC system’s investment into BREIT is “making a bad problem worse.”
BREIT, however, sees the UC system’s investments as a “win” for the university, according to a release of information to stockholders. The release noted that the UC system’s investment could spring future partnerships with “BREIT’s world-class operating platforms, particularly in student and affordable housing.”
Stenhouse noted that workers at Bay Area campuses often commute hours from far-off places, such as Sacramento due to a lack of affordable local options. The union’s demands to increase wages come from workers’ desire to live close to where they work, he added.
“We’re calling on the (UC) Regents to say ‘my God, we’ve got an affordability crisis here, and we have the capacity to affect it for people we count on, for people we serve, for people we rely on.’” Stenhouse said. “It’s a moral question, really.”
UC Berkeley did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.