Approximately 11,500 University of California patient care workers received their long-awaited tentative contract on Oct. 20. The contract, which will be voted on Nov. 10, will address issues that have been concerning workers since October, 2007 when their last contract expired.
Both patient care and service workers have been fighting for a new contract to end unfair wages. However, the patient care workers are the only ones with a contract currently in development.
Patient care workers include, but are not limited to, licensed vocational nurses, respiratory therapists and phlebotomists, while service workers are primarily concerned with custodial food and security work.
According to Lakesha Harrison, President of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, Local 3299, aside from actual wages and equity, one of the primary issues is seniority. The original system keeps wages the same and does not raise pay for older members. The new contract will ensure higher pay for older workers with seniority and use seniority for promotion transfer.
Information released by AFSCME stated that this new contract provides across-the-board wage raises successively per year, beginning with a 3 percent raise, followed by “across the board wage increases of the following per year: 4 percent, 5 percent, 3 percent, 3 percent plus 1 and 3 percent plus 1” and is retroactive to October 15, 2007. Retroactive pay, though delayed, will compensate for the work that has already been performed since Oct. 15, 2007.
If passed, it will also increase the minimum wage to $14.50 per hour, daily overtime after completion of shifts double-time after 12 hour shifts, and allow for collective bargaining on employee pension and health care benefits.
Harrison further explained that the contract is tentative until the workers vote to agree or disagree with the new plan.
“The bargaining team is made up of around 20 members who negotiate the contracts,” Harrison said. [However] the membership of the union, the 11,500 patient workers, will have to come and say they agree so we can’t pass membership votes on it.”
Despite the fact that the bargaining team works for the union, the union must decide with a majority vote whether the bargaining team has made the right decision.
According to D’Artagon Scorza, the acting student UC Regent, once the contract is voted on next week it will be finalized by the UC Regents and the president of the University.
“If the union signs off, the president signs off and the regents give a nod, then that will be that,” Scorza said.
However, while ecstatic about the new contract, Harrison reminds everyone that 8,500 service workers are still left without a working contract and lower pay.
“We have a service union of 8,500 workers who make up custodians, housekeepers, food service workers, cooks, bus drivers and security guards that we are still fighting for,” Harrison said. “Those are the workers who went on strike. These are the lowest paid workers in the system where like 96 percent of this workforce is eligible for public assistance. This patient care agreement is pretty decent and we are hoping to see the same thing for our workers,” Harrison said.
While both Scorza and Harrison confirm that there are some behind-the-scenes negotiations occurring for the service workers, because they deal with collective bargaining they cannot be made public for the sake of employee privacy.
Currently, wages for service workers can range as low as $10 per hour. Regents factored in the economy as a cause for underpaid workers.
“Many of our service workers and healthcare workers are underpaid compared to the market,” Scorza said. “But they are underpaid because we are under-budgeted as an institution. UC is facing a potential billion-dollar deficit.”
Another topic Scorza mentioned was that while salaries were too low, UC employees were not lacking in overall medical and retirement benefits.
“It’s a total compensation package, not just pay,” Scorza said. “You don’t really hear the unions complain about benefits in the state of California.”
Agreeing with Harrison, he noted that service workers need to be paid more, yet for the UC Regents who finance the university expenses, the question of how remains.
Scorza stated that he hopes the agreement will encourage team work to ensure that the institution is adequately funded and that individuals are paid at rates that are livable and fair.
“We have the number one health care system in the western United States and the number three in the country,” Scorza said. “You don’t get that from under-funding your institution. We’re going to lose quality and good workers unless we as a state and citizens of a state invest in higher education again.”