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Thursday, January 29, 2009

UC Service Workers Come To Contract Agreement

Take First Step Out of Poverty with Historic Contract

After more than seven months since a week of strikes press for new negotiations, over 8500 UC Services workers reached agreement with the University of California that union officials lauded as the first step to lift thousands of families out of poverty. The agreement includes significant wage increases, a pay system that rewards seniority and a first time ever statewide minimum wage for their job classifications.

According to a release from AFSCME 3299, here is a statement from Kathryn Lybarger, who is a Gardner at UC Berkeley:
“This has been a truly historic fight for all of us. For years, we have been struggling to make ends meet each month on UC’s low wages. Finally UC executives have recognized their moral responsibility to provide a wage increase that will start to lift us and our families out of poverty, and provide better jobs in our communities.”
Lakesha Harrison, President, AFSCME Local 3299:
“After a year and half of negotiations, this is truly a historic day. We have gone on strike, held informational pickets, lobbied, ran television commercials and many other things that were key to get UC executives to do the right thing and readjust their priorities from executives to the lowest paid workers at UC.”
“We appreciate the strong support of many of California’s leading elected officials and community organizations. Lt. Governor Garamendi, State Senator Leland Yee, Speaker Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, State Senator Gloria Romero, State Senator Gil Cedillo, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, CLUE and other religious leaders, and many others helped convey the importance to the leadership of the University to get a fair and just contract for service workers. We appreciate their support for starting to end poverty wages at UC.”
This new agreement includes wages increases over five years of 4%, 3%, 3%, 3%, and 3%. For the first time, UC service workers will have a state wide minimum wage that reaches $14.00/hour by the end of the contract. In addition the contract includes the adoption of a fair pay system that gives employees credit for their service and dedication to the University. The agreement also includes stronger benefits protections.

Lt. Governor John Garamendi and a UC Regent released a statement:
“This is a good settlement. It will give some of the lowest paid workers at the greatest university system in the world enough of a salary to meet the minimum needs of their families. It should also be noted that only a small portion of the worker’s contract comes from the state budget.”
This is one of the key points. For those wondering why the lowest paid workers would get a raise during these budget times, the majority of funds do not come from the state budget as we have mentioned in the past. Instead they come from the proceeds from the quasi-private hospital profits.

Just a week and a half ago, about 60 workers went to the San Francisco office of UC Regent Richard Blum. The purpose of their visit was to try and talk to him directly regarding their contract. During their visit, the workers asked to meet and/or talk with Regent Blum in person or by telephone. When Regent Blum denied their request, 20 of these low wage service workers sat down and refused to leave.

At the time, President Yudof's response to the worker demands was to ask that these actions stop despite independent analysis that shows something like 96% of the 8500 UC Service workers receive low enough wages to qualify for some form of public assistance.

Despite the rhetoric from the President, the action seemed to push the process forward and resulted in an eventual contract for the workers.

State Senator Leland Yee has been a strong advocate for the workers from the start.
“I am pleased that the University finally reached an agreement with the service workers. These are tough economic times for everyone, but even more so for these low-wage workers and their families. This new contract is well-deserved and much-needed. While this contract brings the University one step closer to ending poverty wages for all workers, it is imperative that the UC also provides shared governance of the employee pension plan – a role every other public pension plan in the state provides workers.”
This contract seems to be a good start toward moving these workers toward more competitive living wages in the future. It has been a hard fought and long battle, but the workers and their representatives seem excited about the outcome.

---David M. Greenwald reporting