Tired of the University of California failing to “bargain in good faith,” the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union held a one-day strike at the Berkeley campus and University Office of the President on May 6.
“It was very exciting, the enthusiasm about standing up for their rights and letting the university know that we’re unhappy about not getting raises and that the bargaining hasn’t been going well,” said Colette Williams, a senior research associate at UC Davis who attended the demonstrations.
Over 14 months of contract negotiations have passed, with UPTE giving the university more than 40 proposals, but virtually no progress has been made, said Tanya Smith, Local 1 president, UPTE-CWA 9119. The union represents nearly 12,000 employees including research associates, computer technicians and lab assistants among many other titles at all 10 campuses.
“They send bargainers to the table who have nothing to propose, and after 14 months, UPTE members at Local 1 were frustrated by UC’s stalling,” Smith said. “It seems to us a waste of time to keep going to the table and not even getting a response.“
The union is requesting salary increases of at least 21 percent over three years totaling more than $65 million – an amount the UC does not believe is financially realistic given the budget challenges, said UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz. The state’s current budget does not include funding for salary increases at all.
After being threatened with the strike, the UC made an offer for a 1 percent increase in wages for the next two years, and a 3 percent increase for the third year, should the state budget permit.
“We continue to work with the union to look for mutually acceptable compromises and we have indicated our willingness to revisit the issue of wages in future years when state money may be available,” Schwartz said.
But UPTE objects to being tied to the state budget, since the majority of its members are paid from grants, Smith said.
Schwartz said the UC highly values the work of its technical and research staff, and believes that its employees deserve fair compensation.
“Despite no state funding for salary increases, UC is offering its technical and research employees salary increases of approximately 5 percent over three years – with last year dependent on state funding – totaling more than $18 million,” he said.
Frank Pinto, of Davis Local 6 UPTE-CWA 9119 said the UC‘s offer is more of the same, and that UPTE has had to fight for small raises even through the good years.
“Now hard times are being used as an excuse to deny us any raise and actually cut our pay in the name of shoring up benefits and pension funds,” Pinto said.
The issues that UPTE held its one-day strike over are far from exclusive to Berkeley, Pinto said, and Davis is not far behind in planning for a strike.
“Berkeley struck early because of their semester schedule,” he said. “We have a campus and Med Center wide organization in place that is preparing for our strike, which may be coordinated across the state.“
A potential strike at Davis wouldn’t have to follow in the footsteps of the Berkeley one. Pinto suggested that a strike could even be an educational event. He also said that other unions will join, and that student support is also welcome.
One of the most contentious issues in the contract campaign is the health and safety of workers and students, Smith said.
A 23-year-old woman represented by UPTE died in January of this year from burns sustained in a fire in a UCLA chemistry lab on Dec. 29. She had been working for three months in a laboratory that had been written up two months prior to the accident for not following appropriate safety guidelines.
“Had she had been wearing a lab coat, one of the reported violations, she would be alive today,” Smith said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently fined the UC $37,000 for the incident.
“The money can’t bring her back though,” Smith said. “And it doesn’t change the UC’s insistence than they don’t have to include language in our contract that says that they will follow federal, state, and local health and safety guidelines.“
Schwartz said the core issue is the lack of adequate support from the state.
“Proper funding from the state is the only way we are going to be able to make any significant progress in keeping faculty and staff compensation and benefits competitive,“ he said.
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at email@example.com.