University of California employees staged rallies at seven hospitals across the state Wednesday to protest the school’s planned 10-week layoff of up to 3,000 low-wage workers.
An estimated 200 notices went out last week, primarily to food-service workers at UC Riverside and UC San Diego. The employees are represented by the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Local 3299.
UC officials said they are working to reassign jobs where they can, but campus shutdowns have forced their hand.
AFSCME spokesman Todd Stenhouse said the number of layoffs is expected to ramp up dramatically.
“They came to the union a few weeks ago and said they think it could be as many as 3,000 layoffs statewide,” he said.
Stenhouse said the dining hall workers initially slated for layoffs make about $41,000 a year and more than 75%, or over 150 of them, are people of color.
Stenhouse said he couldn’t speculate on the ethnic breakdown of the bigger layoff, as that would involve multiple bargaining units from a variety of unions representing parking attendants, janitors, security personnel, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians and graduate teaching assistants, among others.
The initial layoffs, he said, are expected to save the $40 billion UC system about $1.5 million.
“I’ve done the math and that’s less than four-thousandths of 1%,” he said. “They’re sitting on about $30 billion in cash reserves including $10 billion which is unrestricted.”
Workers rallied at seven UC facilities Wednesday:
- UC Irvine Medical Center
- UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center
- UCLA Santa Monica Hospital
- UC San Diego Hillcrest Medical Center
- UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center
- UC San Francisco’s Helen Diller Medical Center
- UC Davis Medical Center
Fearing for his job
Jesse Hernandez, a senior cook at UC Riverside, fears for his job — a position he’s held for 20 years.
“I received my notice last week, and the layoff will become effective July 1,” the 48-year-old Riverside resident said. “There are close to 70 workers affected at UC Riverside. Our boss said the layoffs could be extended, or there could be other layoffs after this one.”
Hernandez said his department was hard hit because it’s self-sustaining, meaning it doesn’t receive additional funding through the state to support its operations.
“My job is potentially in danger,” he said. “This layoff could become permanent.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, UC said it wants to keep as many employees working as possible to limit the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers. The school said it has a systemwide job protection order and is reassigning employees to other roles where possible.
“In situations where layoffs are necessary, most are due to lack of on-campus work and occur primarily at campuses,” the statement said. “With the recent and ongoing shift to remote operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, campuses need even fewer on-site staff in certain operational areas.”
Most of the layoffs are temporary, UC said, and impacted employees will hopefully return when campuses are able to resume full, in-person operations.
That comes as little consolation to those who have already received temporary layoff notices.
Workers gather at UC Irvine
About a dozen workers gathered on the corner of Chapman Avenue and The City Drive near the UC Irvine Medical Center on Wednesday, yelling “No layoffs at UCI!” and “Treat your heroes like you should!” in front of a sign saying “Heroes Work Here.”
Alfredo Lopez, a certified nurse assistant at UCI Medical Center, said he’s been on the front line battling COVID-19 while dealing with what he sees as a lack of supplies, such as N95 masks.
“They are calling us heroes, but they are kicking us out,” he said. “We are disposable heroes.”
UC has implemented a number of cost-cutting measures for its fiscal 2020-21 school year:
- Leadership pay cuts: President Napolitano and the current UC chancellors will take a voluntary 10% pay cut
- Restricted hiring: The school will continue the UC Office of the President hiring freeze announced in March, and campuses will continue staff-hiring freezes and/or similar actions
- Systemwide freeze for staff: The school is freezing staff salaries and wages for non-represented staff.
- Systemwide freeze for faculty: UC is freezing salary scales for non-represented, non-student academic employees
‘It feels permanent’
Hernandez isn’t hopeful about the outcome.
“It feels permanent,” he said. “When they start asking for your badges and stuff and to clean out your locker, it doesn’t feel like it’s temporary.”
Only about a quarter of UC Riverside’s typical number of students are currently expected on campus at any one time in the fall, and conventions that normally provide much of the work for Dining Services have been canceled.
UC Riverside employees got an early start on the protest Tuesday night. They expressed their displeasure with a drive-by “honk-a-thon” protest, honking and waving signs as they drove past Chancellor Kim Wilcox’s home on campus.
“We probably had a good 50 cars or more,” Hernandez said.
Campus spokesman John Warren said the event was peaceful and campus police didn’t have to respond.
Source: Orange County Register
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