After 18 months of negotiations, the University of California has finally reached an agreement with its service workers regarding wage increases.
The agreement was ratified on Feb. 12 by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, which represents 8,500 service workers at the 10 UC campuses. It will provide more than $64 million in wage increases for service workers and establish a statewide UC minimum wage that reaches $14 an hour by the end of the pact in 2013, according to a UC press release.
“This is a historic agreement and a really great first step in getting UC service workers out of poverty,” said Lakesha Harrison, president of Local 3299. “We have changed the trajectory of how UC pays and treats its workers.”
In addition to across the board wage increases, the agreement also includes a longevity reward system which will pay workers according to the length of time they have worked for UC, said William Schlitz, political and communications director for AFSCME.
The agreement comes after months of protests and rallies by UC service workers, including a five-day strike last July and a recent sit-in at the office of UC Regent Richard Blum.
“This has been a long and hard struggle for us,” said Julian Posada, statewide vice president of AFSCME and UC service worker. “It has required large sacrifices by service workers, including time away from family … but the result has been worth the struggle.”
Posada said that while the new agreement is a step in the right direction, the struggle is far from over.
“We are very happy, but there is still a lot more work to be done,” he said. “There are still issues that need attention such as [UC workers’] health care … we’ve demonstrated that we will be persistent in these issues and will continue to engage UC in a positive and constructive way.”
The university said it is pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.
“We believe this is a fair agreement, and one that rewards our hardworking service workers for their contributions and continued dedication to the university,” said UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz. “Ultimately, both sides compromised and we were able to reach an agreement that was acceptable to both sides.”
While the university said the inability to come to an agreement earlier was largely due to a lack of state funding for worker wage increases, Posada said he disagrees with this argument.
“Our wages are not state budget dependent, and the fact that [UC] was able to find the money for this agreement proves that,” he said. “UC has put its service workers on the back-burner for years. Enough is enough.”
Harrison said she also believed the issue is a matter of priorities rather than resources.
“The university was simply not making us a priority,” she said. “They were giving themselves raises and bonuses while ignoring the needs of its workers … we had to push and push and say, ‘Hey we are suffering here.'”
The recent agreement marks a second victory for UC employees as 11,500 patient care workers reached their own five-year agreement with the university last fall. The terms of the new agreement will go into effect within 90 days and will run through Jan. 31, 2013.
ERICA LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.