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Friday, February 01, 2008

UC Workers Press for Better Wages and Benefits, as Chancellor Locks Them Out of the Fifth Floor of Mrak

Around 40 to 50 service workers came to a cold and rainy Mrak Hall to press their demands for a new contract that pays better wages and benefits for around 20,000 service and patient care workers across the state. They also announced that their current contract expired on Thursday. And hoped that the university, UC wide, would negotiate a new contract in good faith. In addition, the Sodexho Workers were there hoping to press for discussions that would lead them to become university employees.

Leticia from the bargaining team, just came from negotiations yesterday, bargaining for the patient care and service workers of the UC system. On the campus this effects mostly service workers. The university system only offered a very minimal amount of increase. For example, a non-wage benefit of paying for TAPs parking but only for a few senior employees on campus.
"We're not asking for anything out of the ordinary. What our workers are wanting here is what workers have everywhere, other places, other hospitals around the area, other community colleges, we just want to be up to their standards, what they receive as workers. Either monetary and emotionally, because we do not get treated fairly here either."
These are people who are making anywhere from $9 to $11 per hour, the lowest of the payscale on campus. All they are seeking is to be on par with people in the private sector. They are seeking anywhere from a 1% to an 8% pay raise. That sounds like a lot, but that would be less than a dollar per hour at the highest rate.
"That [increase] doesn't bring them up to market [value], that only brings them up from being six feet under, to being at ground level. But that doesn't bring them up to where we stand with everyone else. We only have 20,000 workers, we don't know the exact number of workers [who would be affected by this] but it would be minimal."
The workers did not accept the contract extension. With the contract expired and no new contract in place, they will continue at this point to work under the old agreement.
"What they wanted to do was extend the current contract which expires today and they want to extend it another six months to talk about and wait to keep an eye on the budget. That's what they told us, but 91 percent of our 20,000 workers are not budget dependent, that's not the source of our income."
Guy Turner a community member active with the Gospel Justice Group from St. James Catholic Church, addressed the crowd in a showing of solidarity.
"I'm with St. James Gospel Justice. I'm here representing the community support. The community in Davis, the social justice groups in Davis, my cohorts aren't here because of the weather, however there is a big number of folks that are aware of the Sodexho situation and I'm representing them..."
For people such as Mr. Turner, this is an issue about equity and social justice.
"I listened to Esther's story, I have to be here. When I hear the stories about the treatment of Sodexho workers here on campus, something has to be done.

I don't know what I can do, but one thing I would like to do is to invite the Chancellor to come down and talk with us out here. I have a few questions I'd like to ask him. I'd like to ask why the wages are still below those of a direct UC Davis employee? Why is it we have right on campus, the people who have, who have health insurance, who have retirement, who have a really good plan for all of these things and they work up here in that office. However, there's people on campus who are the havenots, and I think it's wrong, and I'd like to ask the chancellor why we have the haves and the have-nots."
The group had hoped to meet with Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef to discuss and press their demands for new contracts. They marched into Mrak Hall and up the stairs, only to find that the door to the fifth floor was locked.

As they were walking up, they ran into Associate Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed. They asked Mr. Reed to speak with them, but the Vice Chancellor was in a hurry and walked right past them without talking.

Leticia said:
"It's very frustrating, that he [the chancellor] cannot give us a few minutes. He didn't come out today, but we will try to meet with him again."
At some point you would think that a public entity such as a state university would have to be responsive to the public. However, the UC system seems so far removed from the public and from elected officials who can be expected to hold them accountable. It seems they are able to get away with whatever they want, but these workers, the fight is just beginning.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting