Happy New Year! I for one am happy to say goodbye to 2020, and start fresh with a new year.
We have all survived what was perhaps the most difficult year in modern times. We have all come through it bruised and battered, some among us losing friends, homes, and family members; however, we will come out of this stronger and more determined. It is a demonstration of the strength of the human spirit and resilience in the face of adversity. Now more than ever, we need to work to rally around each other and move forward, united as one.
Last year, we all faced the need to modify our home lives and our working lives. Distance has been a necessity to fight this pandemic. Many have transitioned to working from home. And many have done it while juggling loss of childcare and becoming homeschool teachers. UPTE has spearheaded the fight to ensure safe and supported working environments, as well as holding the colleges and university accountable concerning job security, contract compliance, in addition to our regular member support. UPTE has fought UC to maintain superior safety standards as described by CalOSHA, instead of relaxed standards the federal government pushed, and we demanded the required PPE to meet those standards.
Coronavirus vaccinations are rolling out at the UC medical centers. It is believed that all hospital-based employees who are willing and able will be vaccinated by the end of January, and that most Americans should be vaccinated by the end of 2021. It is our hope that we will see a return to some normalcy by the end of this year, so that we can once again move forward with our union’s work, without the constant threat of illness and adversity hanging over us.
All that being said, we face multiple challenges this year. We need to fight to maintain safe workspaces, including sufficient safety equipment to meet CalOSHA safety standards. We must be mindful that many of our local employers will want employees to return on site. We must make them partner with UPTE to do this safely. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on UC, community colleges, or labs, to provide safe return to work plans. In the fall, some departments attempted to have employees return and failed. Covid cases increased, staff exposures and risks were increased, and we fought for the return to work from home. We look forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions concerning a safe return to work. UPTE has a structure in place to facilitate these conversations with our employers. Every location is unique. Each of you is an expert on your job and location and you will know what is feasible to keep you, your coworkers, and your community safe.
The fight is never over. We continue to fight for a fair contract with job security and commensurate wages at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. We must keep fighting to protect our contracts we have ratified, because our employers will never stop trying to undermine them. We won daily overtime at UC, comparable to that afforded other employees throughout the state; that was a huge win in the new contract, and there have already been multiple issues with UC complying. UPTE has worked with those wronged to enforce our contract and collect back pay. We also fought for stolen on-call wages for multiple titles and won settlements nearing $400,000 in back pay. These are just a few examples of the many wins that came out of our fighting back last year. And this year, we must continue to protect and enforce our contracts.
One of the largest battles facing us in 2021, is to stop austerity measures in our workplaces. UPTE has been circulating a petition to stop such measures at UC. Sign today to tell UC we will not accept furloughs, curtailments, or cuts by any other name while they sit on billions of dollars in savings. Late last week, Governor Newsom announced an unexpected surplus in state revenue and restored an additional 3% to the UC operating budget. With increased state support, there is no excuse for cutting jobs, services or balancing the UC budget on the backs of working people.
We need to find a workable solution for our community college colleagues where the colleges don’t have nearly the savings, but still have the obligation to their employees and the students to maintain educational standards as well as contractual obligations to the part time faculty, especially where it pertains to wages and seniority. Recently, the federal government announced an infusion of more than $4 billion to be allocated to California higher education, including California’s community colleges. We will continue our fight to insure that these funds are used to increase available instruction, rather than filling the already bloated ranks of administrators in the system.
We will win in achieving our goals when we stay united and fight as one. I look forward to fighting united at your side, and making 2021 a year of positivity and progress, not just a return to normalcy or defending what we have, but making progress towards justice in our workplaces, communities, and nation.