UC Cuts Lowest Paid Workers’ Wages

After more than an entire year of negotiations and bargaining, the University of California has notified the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299, a statewide union of UC service and patient care workers standing for better working conditions, that they would be forcing cuts in both health care and pay on its service workers last Tuesday, Sept. 24.

“The aspirations and sacrifices of generations of frontline workers and everyday taxpayers built UC into a crown jewel public university and a gateway to the middle class,”  AFSCME 3299’s president, Kathryn Lybarger, said. “Today, UC is being transformed into a symbol of the widening income gap that is condemning growing numbers of Americans to a life of poverty. Taking from UC’s lowest paid, full time workers in order to line the pockets of UC Executives is not just an attack on collective bargaining — it’s an assault on basic morality.”

More than 8,000 workers make up the lowest paid employees bracket in the UC system; these workers make an average of only $35,000 a year. This income group will be affected by the UC-imposed contract of a 1.5 percent decrease in take-home pay and up to $124,000 in higher health costs for each worker in their lifetime. These workers include custodians, gardeners, food service workers and facilities maintenance staff. Before the most recent cuts, 99 percent of these service workers were already income eligible for some form of public assistance.

On the other end of the spectrum, UC  non-represented staff have already received a 3 percent raise and 2 percent for faculty and non-represented academic personnel. In addition, seven hundred of UC’s highest-paid employees receive larger salaries than the President of the United States.

Events prior to the pay cut notification foreshadowed this UC decision.

“I’ve been working full time at UC for 33 years,”  53-year-old Eugene Stokes, a Senior Building Maintenance Worker at UC Berkeley, said.   “I work another job to try and make ends meet, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to retire. Yesterday, I had to choose between paying the mortgage or helping my daughter with her tuition. On other days, that choice is between medicine and food.”

According to AFSCME’s recent press release, “UC’s decision to impose terms on service workers comes just days after the State’s Public Employment Relations Board charged UC with illegally threatening and coercing employees who sought to exercise their collective bargaining rights this year.”

This latest UC decision was made less than a week before the start date of incoming UC President Janet Napolitano, who has been and is still facing criticism from UC students on her positions regarding immigration as the former Secretary of Homeland Security.

“UC’s service unit includes thousands of first generation immigrants who have devoted their lives to helping others realize their dreams,” Lybarger said. “While Napolitano has said that she plans to stand up for the aspirations of all Californians, UC’s actions on the eve of her ascent to the Presidency are sending a very different message. Only Secretary Napolitano can change this perception by accepting our invitation to meet and cooperate in the spirit of good faith compromise.”

In a press release issued by UC, Regents said, “Having completed all stages of the bargaining process, including state-assisted mediation and fact finding, the university is legally entitled to implement its last proposal. These terms are fair, fiscally responsible, and guarantee our staff quality health care benefits as well as attractive pension and retiree health benefits that few public and private employers nationwide offer.”


This article was updated on Oct. 3, 2013.