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University Of California Research, Technical Workers Stage 1-Day Strike

BERKELEY (CBS SF / AP) -- Research and technical workers are staging a one-day strike at University of California campuses and hospitals, in the Bay Area and across the state, following failed contract negotiations.

The strike Wednesday involves 14,000 members of the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America. The union and UC officials have been negotiating for the past 20 months to come to a new contract agreement with no success.

Union members perform jobs including running clinical trials, assisting in laboratory tests, managing classroom technology and caring for research animals.

Workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are joining in a sympathy strike as they seek a deal of their own with the UC system.

The scene of picketing workers at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus was all too familiar.

Wage inequality remains at the heart of the issue.

"The university is taking out too much money out to pay high-paid executives six-figure salaries and raises and bonuses instead of taking care of their aligned staff and workers," said UPTE-CWA 9119 spokesperson Todd Kolze.

"It's really a question of priorities. It's got nothing to do with their financial reality," agreed Erin Brightwell, a speech pathologist and member of the union.

At the UCSF Parnassus campus, about 100 picketers from the UPTE were joined by AFSCME union workers in solidarity.

"Really, what the university refuses to talk about is the heart of the issue, which is inequality and outsourcing," Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299, told KPIX 5.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is again seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, addressed strikers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"What we are seeing all across this country is a war being waged against the working people of America," Sanders told a rally.

"It is a sad state of affairs when people who work at this university cannot live in this community because they cannot afford to buy housing or pay the rent," he said.

UPTE members said UC has given its last, best and final offer of a 12-percent raise over five years.

UCSF said Wednesday's strike forced 650 doctor's visits and 150 chemo appointments to be rescheduled.

To make the day as seamless as possible for patients, weekend staffing and contracted employees were brought in.

"Still, it is an emotional toll in some ways and a burden to the patient's families who have to bring them here as well," said Sheila Antrum, a registered nurse who is also Senior VP and COO at UCSF Health.

UC spokeswoman Claire Doan characterized the strike as "organized theatrics."

"Three disruptive strikes in less than one year come at a cost to everyone — patients, students and UC communities — while doing nothing to help unionized workers get closer to a contract and wage increases," Doan said in a statement.

Neither side could say when a resolution might be reached.

"I have no idea when this is going to be settled. I don't have a crystal ball," said Kolze.

This strike is set to continue at locations on both sides of the Bay throughout the day and at all campuses across California.

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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