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UPTE’s Summer Retreat a great place to learn about the past, strategize for the future

UPTE-CWA held a Summer Retreat in a place that’s perfect for summer and retreats: UC Santa Cruz.

Union leaders, activists and just plain members gathered for a weekend of workshops and informal get-togethers on August 9 and 10 which addressed building the union, organizing strategies, responding effectively to workplace problems, improving health and safety, and movement-building.

In addition to the practical know-how, many came to learn about what makes UPTE special, different, experimental and cutting-edge. Questions in the air included: What is the “UPTE Model?” Why do some members have contracts and others don’t? What’s the union’s history?

Workshop participants at UPTE’s Summer Retreat in Santa Cruz. (Lisa Kermish, photo)

Building a union from the bottom up

“UPTE was founded in 1990, after a group of UC professional and technical workers, who hailed from every campus in the UC system, decided their association with AFSCME wasn’t going anywhere,” said co-founder Cliff Fried. “We decided it was time to seek a union that would seriously organize professional and technical

workers. We remained independent for three years, as required by AFL-CIO rules, then accepted organizing proposals from several unions. The Communications Workers of America (CWA), a 700,000 member union in the AFL-CIO, was the best match, so we affiliated in 1993.”

A meeting of union leaders and activists following UPTE’s vote to affiliate with CWA in 1993. For more historic photos, check out “Throw Back Thursdays” on UPTE’s Facebook page.

A well-planned campaign to organize UC’s 4,000 technical employees (the TX unit) followed, resulting in a landslide vote via the Public Employment Relations Board for UPTE-CWA in late 1994. As the new union got contract bargaining underway for techs, it took on organizing ressearchers (the RX unit), resulting in another big win of 4,000 workers into UPTE in 1996. Health care professionals were next, voting for UPTE representation in 1997. The union also established locals at all three UC-affiliated national labs (Lawrence Berkeley, Livermore and Los Alamos), including exclusively representing a unit of skilled trades workers at Livermore lab. UPTE also represents associate faculty at three California community colleges and is currently organizing 15,000 administrational professionals systemwide.

As for the UPTE Model, “it’s classic, one-on-one organizing within a democratic, member-run union,” said Fried. “While that may be seen as innovative in today’s labor movement, it actually harkens back to traditional forms of social movement unionism around since the early 20th century.”


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