BY DAVID GREENBERG
More than 7,000 service employees in the University of California system are expected to give their union leaders the authority to call for a strike when a vote is taken in the next few weeks.
The workers, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, have gone without a contract for seven months, and the union declared an impasse in the talks Jan. 18.
A state-appointed mediator who met with labor and management on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 failed to jump-start the talks, which engage at least 40 issues ranging from guaranteed pay hikes and promotional opportunities to fees for parking on campus.
“We have no illusions,” said Paul Worthman, chief negotiator for the local. “It’s going to be very difficult to get the university to change their positions on the major issues.”
The chapter represents food service workers, janitors, bus drivers, housekeepers, nutritionists, security guards and groundskeepers employed by the nine-campus system, including thousands of workers at UC San Diego and UCLA.
They are seeking a contract that would expire on Sept. 30, 2007, with pay increases retroactive to June 30, 2004, when the three-year contract expired. The expired contract had been extended to Jan. 30.
While union officials stress that their members have not received a pay hike in two years, UC officials counter that the state budget crisis has everyone in the school system hurting.
“We do recognize that our service salaries are lagging behind, much like most of the salaries in the UC system,” said Noel Van Nyhuis, a UC spokesman for labor issues. “There’s no question the recent budget cuts haven’t allowed UC to give the systemwide raises that we normally like to give.”
Local 3299’s Jan. 18 declaration of an impasse was certified by the California Public Employment Relations Board, which asked the California State Mediation and Conciliation Service to appoint a mediator. Micki Callahan, who heads the Northern California office, assigned herself to the case.
Callahan did not return calls, but Dean Fryer, spokesman for the state Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees the California Mediation and Conciliation Service, said it stood ready to offer mediation “when the parties are ready to come together for discussions.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and UC President Robert Dynes have signed a “public compact” that would grant UC workers a 3 percent salary hike during the 2005-06 school year, followed by a 4 percent raise in each of the following two school years. But such conditional raise agreements mean little if the final budgets each fiscal year do not contain money to support them.
“Salary funding is dependent upon state funds because it is a permanent expense and state funds are the only reliable source of funds that are recurring,” said Van Nyhuis. “We can’t pin permanent increases, such as salaries, on one-time gifts or donations.”
The state provides the UC system with one-fifth of its annual funding, more than any other single source. But union officials said that was enough money to meet workers’ demands.
A study commissioned by the union and executed by the National Economic Development & Law Center, a nonprofit organization, found that 93 percent of UC service workers don’t earn enough to meet the basic needs for a single adult with a child and that most workers qualify for nine welfare benefit programs.
UCLA janitors, for instance, are paid less than their counterparts at Los Angeles County-based community colleges and the Kaiser Permanente system, the study said.
The UC system has a history of struggles with on-campus unions, including the battle between the administration and UCLA graduate students working as teaching and research assistants. After a 17-year dispute, the UC system eventually recognized the Student Association of Graduate Employees, which is affiliated with the United Auto Workers union, as a collective bargaining unit.
“There has been a rather contentious relationship between the UC administration and the various campus unions for many years,” said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education. “The tension still exists.”
Local 3299 has backed down from some of its initial demands. It originally sought the elimination of the $50 to $80 monthly parking fees charged to each employee. Workers are now only seeking to prevent any increases.
In return, UC negotiators have agreed not to raise health-care premiums during the first year of a contract a move that drew praise from the union. Officials acknowledged that the health and pension systems at UC campuses have been good.
David Greenberg writes for the
Los Angeles Business Journal.