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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More on the UC Worker Strike

Overall, day one of the strike seemed to go as planned. The university threatened letters of reprimand for the workers who walked off the job and onto the picket line. There were a few verbal skirmishes with those few workers who crossed the picket line, but all in all, a pretty good day.

One of the big issues that has led to the work stoppage is that of wages. The union is calling wages that run at roughly $10 per hour, poverty wages.

According to the union's release, these low wages are exacerbated by rising gas and food prices.
"Many are forced to take second jobs or go on public assistance just to meet their families’ basic needs. Skyrocketing gas and food prices have deepened the crisis for UC families that are already living paycheck to paycheck. Typically, service workers live in low income communities farther away from campus, forcing a longer commute and higher fuel costs that use a disproportionate portion of their budget."
Furthermore, the impact of low prices, mean that tax payers are having to flip the bill. Again, according to the union's release:
"Roughly 96% are eligible for at least one of the following taxpayer-funded programs: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies, and subsidized child care. By not paying workers enough to support their families, UC executives are pushing these costs onto California taxpayers in a difficult budget year."
The UC Regents have justified their salary offer based on the affordability to taxpayers, but this seems to amount to a shuffling of the deck. UC may not pay for these subsidies directly, but the taxpayers do. All of this occurring as top UC Regent and other top campus officials are getting huge salaries and sometimes huge pay increases on top of those already large salaries.

Lakesha Harrison, President of AFSCME said in their release Monday:
“UC executives don’t pay service workers enough to survive, but expect taxpayers to pick up the tab in the form of public assistance. We expect that from Wal-Mart - not from a public institution – that’s double dipping."
The union is complaining that the workers are receiving 25% less than their private sector counterparts. While the UC's have proposed a pay increase of up to 26% over five years, none of those pay increases are actually guaranteed. Rather they are based on state budget projections, which figure to be in tough times over the next few years as the economy and state budget crisis continue to deepen according to many experts.

Meanwhile, PERB and the UC attempted to head off the strike before it started, going to court to stop the strike. However, the union and the UC did not even agree on the interpretation of the strike.

Matt Tidd, a UC Davis Campus worker said in the AFSCME 3299's release:
“UC executives are not only paying us poverty wages, they are trying to take away our right to stand up for our families. This is a crisis, and we are going to do whatever it takes to put a roof over our families’ heads and put food on the table.”
The strikers were also joined by among other top officials, Senator Leland Yee, who represents San Francisco.

Photo Courtesy of Senator Yee and

Senator Yee's office issued a statement on Friday:
"These workers do everything from cleaning and disinfecting hospitals and dorm rooms, to providing cafeteria service for patients and students, to providing security throughout the UC system."

Senator Yee continued:
"It is unconscionable what the UC administration is doing to these workers and their families... The wages of these workers are dramatically behind other hospitals and even California's community colleges, where workers average 25 percent more for the same work. UC hospitals made over $371 million in profits last year, yet they refuse to provide the workers a fair wage... While UC executives live high on the hog, workers, students, and patients are left in the cold."

He concluded:

"In contrast, UC executives have consistently received double digit pay increases on already exorbitant salaries. Recently, the UC Board of Regents approved over $800,000 for the system’s incoming president. "
Meanwhile the Governor Schwarzenegger issued a statement in support of the court injunction:
"Public safety is my No. 1 priority and this strike could affect the health and well being of many people who rely on the critical services provided by medical support staff. While there may be legitimate issues to be resolved, it is unacceptable to use the welfare of innocent people as a bargaining chip."
The UC Strike is expected to continue until Friday. The Vanguard will continue to provide periodic updates throughout the week.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting