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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dispute with UC Lingers; Senator Calls For Mediated Settlement

In July, roughly 8,500 University of California (UC) service workers went out on strike in protest of poverty wages. At this point there is no agreement between the workers and the UC Regents. Now, a mediated settlement has been presented to the UC administration. Senator Leland Yee, who joined workers represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 3299) on the picket lines in July, is calling on the University to accept this new proposal.

Last month, the University asked Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, to mediate the collective bargaining between AFSCME 3299 and the UC. He has since put forward a series of recommendations to settle the dispute.

The UC workers have argued that these wages are forcing them to live in near poverty conditions. Despite the economic downturn, the university has the resources to bring these workers up to a living wage and lift them out of poverty. As the Vanguard reported last summer, much of the funding for these workers comes from the privately funded UC hospital system which has ample money to absorb a pay increase. Eighty percent of service worker salaries are not paid by state funds, but are paid under the UC hospital budget or are self-funded.

From last summer:
"At issue are poverty wages as low as $10 per hour. Many work 2-3 jobs and qualify for public assistance to meet their families’ basic needs. UC wages have fallen dramatically behind other hospitals and California’s community colleges where workers are paid family-sustaining wages that are on average of 25% higher. In addition, when workers have stood up for better lives for their families and better working conditions, the University has retaliated by violating labor laws.

96% of service workers are eligible for at least one of the following forms of public assistance: food stamps, WIC, public housing subsidies and subsidized child care, creating a potential burden for CA taxpayers. Increasing wages would not only help lift workers out of poverty, but could positively impact CA and the low- and moderate-income areas where UC workers live as they contribute more to their local economy."
The University of California was able to pay its new president Mark Yudof $800,000, nearly doubling the salary of his predecessor. UC executives have consistently received double digit pay increases and bonuses on already exorbitant salaries. In addition, Regents have significantly increased student fees each year, making the state’s higher education system unaffordable for many students.

In a letter to President Yudof, Senator Yee wrote:
“In light of the University’s commitment to increasing executive compensation, it is an embarrassment that service workers are largely ignored by the UC administration. I strongly urge the University to immediately accept the mediated settlement. Mr. Pulaski has put forward a middle ground proposal that should be accepted by both parties.”
The mediated settlement proposal includes across the board increases of 5%, 3%, 3+1%, 3+1% for four years; year for year service credit steps; and a minimum rate of $14.50/hour by the end of the four year contract term.
“It is unconscionable what the UC administration has done to these workers and their families. The wages of UC service workers are dramatically behind other hospitals and California’s community colleges, where workers average twenty-five 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.”
According to the state-appointed, independent fact finder Carol Vendrillo, these low wages are a matter of priorities and not a lack of resources. She noted:
“UC has demonstrated the ability to increase compensation when it fits with certain priorities without any demonstrable link to a state funding source. It is time for UC to take a broader view of its priorities by honoring the important contribution that service workers make to the UC community and compensating them with wages that are in line with the competitive market rate.”
As the holiday season rolls around and people struggle to afford to buy their holiday gifts, it is important to remember those who are trying to get by on just $10 an hour from a system that still rolls in billions and pays its top executives high six-figure salaries.

---David M. Greenwald reporting