University of California service workers announced plans of a strike in the hopes of increasing their wages July 2, after negotiations that began in August 2007 fell through.
Union representatives cite wages as low as $10 per hour. Despite UC officials offering a pay increase of as much as $12 per hour, 97.5 percent of service workers voted in favor of authorizing a strike.
Service workers perform such tasks as cleaning and disinfecting hospitals and dormitory rooms, providing cafeteria service to patients, and students and maintaining security on hospitals and campuses.
On July 10, higher gas prices and stagnant wages prompted service workers to set a date for their long-awaited strike. Set to start on July 14, the strike was limited to five days due to financial hardships suffered by service workers.
According to union representatives 96 percent of service workers are eligible for at least one of the following forms of public assistance: food stamps, The Women, Infants and Children Federal grant program, public housing subsidies and subsidized care.
“UC could settle this right now by ending poverty wages at UC,” said Carla Escobedo, a senior food service worker.
Although it may seem cut and dry for some, this issue is tangled up in a larger mess of budget cuts and administrative salary expenses, including California Governor Schwarzenegger’s drastic education budget cuts in January. The issue concerns a vast range of people, from service workers and executives to the student body and the public in general.
As UC schools rise in stature, competition for talent becomes increasingly fierce. In order to maintain status as a top-tier university, UC schools must attract highly distinguished scholars. Thus, wage choice is, for the most part, in the hands of leading scholars in every field of study.
In 2006, regents approved a new salary system comparing UC compensation with two dozen mostly private universities, including Harvard University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using this system, UC administrators are underpaid across the board. For example, Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton makes over $600,000 per year while UC Los Angeles Chancellor Gene Block makes just over $200,000.
Although UC schools have long sought to parallel their services with private universities, private universities receive much larger donations and have no restrictions on spending. Public education revenue is monitored much more closely than private funding.
In October 2007, Senator Leland Yee proposed and passed Senate Bill 190, The Higher Education Governance Accountability Act, which requires transparency in spending by the University of California and California State University systems. Yee argues that the heart of the problem in spending public money is not necessarily the amount of compensation for individuals, but the lack of information provided to the public regarding the exact distribution of funds.
A delicate balance must be struck between attracting talent, allocating funds to other departments and informing the public of any changes made to the system.
Yee authored several other bills in 2007, including Senate Bill 1696, which prohibits a state or local agency from allowing an outside entity to control the disclosure of information that is otherwise subject to the state’s Public Records Act. Although the law provides greater access to government documents in general, it will also serve to increase transparency at the University of California.
“The public deserves to see how their tax dollars are being spent and should not be prevented access to contracts, audits, reviews or reports of government agencies,” Yee said. “Simply entering into a confidentiality agreement with a third party will no longer be an excuse to not disclose information and avoid scrutiny and accountability.”
The California Nurses Association staged a protest on June 29 in retaliation for the suspension of four UCI Medical Center nurses who spoke in favor of the strike. At a campus architecturally built to eliminate the effectiveness of public protest, this can hardly come as a surprise.