Labor Union Continues Fighting With UC for Wage Increases

Nov. 19 marked the end of a round of negotiations between the University of California Office of the President and Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Labor Union. In an ongoing series of negotiations, which began on July 22, AFSCME hopes to address the grievances of over 17,000 patient care and service workers employed by the UC
Most of the service workers at UCI who work in on-campus housing communities are members of AFSCME.
According to Roxana Guevara, office coordinator of the UCI branch of AFSCME, the grievances erupted because of the fact that employees haven’t gotten a raise since 2002.
‘The money has not been properly distributed,’ Guevara said. ‘The UC president and top executives get huge bonuses and pay increases. They say there’s no money, but you still see these injustices.’
AFSCME negotiators are also pursuing the creation of a living wage to adjust for an increased cost of living.
Guevara is disappointed that AFSCME workers in Orange County still need to rely on financial assistance from the government.
‘[Our] employees are [being] forced to leave the county,’ Guevara said. ‘It is a shame that our workers here qualify for [food] stamps, public health and other public services.’
Guevara also claimed that career and pay advancement within the UC system is biased.
‘University managers have the most power to decide who gets what. There is a lot of favoritism, discrimination [and] selectivity,’ Guevara stated. ‘Newer employees have better wages compared with the old-timers.’
Under a step system, workers would all be paid a standard wage for the same job. There would be an automatic cost-of-living pay increase, which does not occur with the current contract. Workers would be rewarded with raises based on years of service.
According to Oscar Mendoza, a service worker in Middle Earth Housing and UCI’s AFSCME representative, the university is against a step system.
‘The university’s stance is that they don’t want a step system. They don’t want to lose the ability to dictate whether or not we get a raise,’ Mendoza said. ‘Half the union is working with wages below the poverty line.’
Many workers at UCI are experiencing the difficulty of living on their salaries.
‘I would say 30 to 40 percent [of housing employees] have to commute out of the county because that’s the only place they can afford to have a nice home,’ Mendoza said.
Overall, Mendoza felt the union’s requests were reasonable.
‘We’re not asking for the moon, we’re not asking to be paid better than everyone else,’ Mendoza said. ‘We just want to be paid market value.’
He added, ‘According to where the market value lies, we get paid below it. Especially at UCI [where] the market value is way lower than at UC Berkeley or UCLA.’
In response to these problems, the AFSCME has not only become increasingly angry, but also increasingly vocal. As Guevara pointed out, however, ‘we need to decide on what we need to do.’
In response to inquiries over the possibility of a strike, Guevara is still unsure.
‘We have to think about that. In some cases a strike works, but sometimes it doesn’t,’ Guevara said.
At this stage, AFSCME is still waiting for their contracts to be settled. Guevara stated that this has been one of the more complicated and prolonged negotiations.
‘This is the first time [negotiations] got this difficult,’ Guevara said.
But as Mendoza discussed, a strike is not an immediate concern for the union.
‘The strike issue is not something we can hang over management’s heads. We have a lot of workers who are very scared of going on strike,’ Mendoza said. ‘We don’t have a strike fund. We don’t have anything prepared.’
There have been some concessions in favor of service employees. In recent negotiations, the UCOP agreed to freeze the increasing health care costs for a year.
But as the service employees of UCI and the other nine UC campuses negotiate with the UCOP, they continue to meet opposition from UCOP, which claims budget cuts prevent them from providing AFSCME workers with a better contract.
UCOP spokesperson Paul Schwartz commented that the UCOP is trying the best they can to reach an agreement with the workers.
‘[UCOP] is currently in negotiations with the AFSCME, offering the best offers we can,’ Schwartz said. ‘But the budget cuts have limited the types of salary increases we would want to impose.’
However, Schwartz is optimistic that a deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will offer relief to employees when ‘funding increases in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2005.’
And although the UCOP’s official position is to pursue a multiyear contract, Schwartz pointed out that there are limitations.
‘In intervening years, there are limited negotiations on certain items. Wages is among them,’ Schwartz said.
Yet AFSCME remains skeptical about the deal.
‘It is my understanding that it may take two to three more months,’ Mendoza said. ‘It’s my opinion that management would like to get it done sooner than that, but the union will take as long as it takes.’
By letting the students know about the current situation, Mendoza hopes to gain their support.
‘Fee increases do not reflect a shortage of funds for the staff pay,’ Mendoza said. ‘We would support and stand behind the injustice of fee increases just as much as we’d like their [students] support for the service workers.’