UPTE members show frustrations over lack of cooperation from the university
The University Professional and Technical Employees union has been in the process of negotiations for several contracts with the University of California for the last year. Members of the union have expressed concerns about the way UC Office of the President’s behavior and lack of cooperation at bargaining sessions has led to little progress over the last 12 months. Recently, UPTE workers went on a sympathy strike in solidarity with AFSCME workers who were also striking.
Alexis Roberts, a clinical laboratory specialist and UPTE member, gave information about the UPTE contract and described some of the issues encountered with UCOP during negotiations.
“Our contract expired back in October of last year,” Roberts said. “Typically, they are three-year contracts and we’ve been in negotiations for over a year. It’s a statewide contract with all 10 UC campuses, and we represent 15,000 employees up and down the state of California. We feel that the UC is not presenting us with any options; they’re not really negotiating in good faith. We have attempted to meet with them every month for 12 months now, and they just never seem to come to the table with anything useful.”
Roberts also mentioned some of the proposals UCOP was offering for future UPTE contracts.
“[The UC] continues to try and enforce a 2 percent raise, they want to take the cap off the parking fee, which means they could raise the parking fees to any level they want and they want to take the cap off the healthcare fee,” Roberts said. “With all that they’re taking away, they never want to give us anything. Basically, cost of living keeps going up and our employers keep only offering us a 2 percent increase each year and we’re slipping farther and farther behind.”
UCOP has maintained that it is bargaining in good faith. UC Spokesperson Stephanie Beechem said in an email that the proposals the UC has offered UPTE workers have been fair.
“UC continues to bargain in good faith on a wide range of issues, including wages, benefits and other employment terms and conditions, with the goal of reaching a new, long-term contract for UPTE employees,” Beechem said. “To that end, UC has offered multiple proposals that would provide UPTE-represented employees with fair wages, continued quality health care, and excellent retirement benefits that few other employers offer.”
Beechem also commented on the sympathy strike that UPTE workers participated in.
“We were disappointed by UPTE leaders’ decision to call a sympathy strike against UC earlier this month,” Beechem said. “In UC’s view, strikes unfairly impact patients and students and should not be used as a negotiating tactic.”
An email to UPTE members from Greg Wine, the vice president of Davis UPTE, however, disagreed. The email stated that workers “cannot afford NOT to strike” and that patients would be taken care of.
“All outpatients areas are closed,” Wine said. “Patients will be protected for the one day we take off just like they are protected on Sundays.”
In comparing UC healthcare workers to those outside of the UC system, Roberts said
that the UC vastly underpays its workers.
“In many of the healthcare professions, the UC wages are 10 to 20 percent lower than market value, market value meaning all of the other healthcare institutions in the region — Kaiser, Sutter and Dignity — are offering more money for those professions,” Roberts said.
Sonia Ghandi, a technical employee at UC Davis and UPTE member, said the the four bargaining priorities of UPTE are “wages, pension, job security and union accountability.” Elaborating on the priority of union accountability, Ghandi said that “new employees don’t get any advantage of knowing about their union representation and [UPTE is] trying to add that into contracts for new employees so they know their rights.”
Roberts commented on the issues with what the university is proposing with regard to pension and other union priorities.
“They want to compromise the pension by offering newer employees a 401k option, which then just compromises the UCRP pension that they offer all the other employees,” Roberts said. “When it comes to all the things we want that are non-wage issues, the UC is trying to block everything that we’re asking for. We want sick leave. Sometimes people ask for vacations from their boss and they don’t get an answer. The UC is not being a good employer — people working full-time shouldn’t be making less than $15 an hour for some of these jobs.”
According to Roberts, the university has not been cooperating nearly as well as UPTE members had hoped, and its consistent offer of a 2 percent wage increase per year is inadequate for a number of reasons.
“We don’t feel that the university is dealing in good faith because we’ve been trying to deal with them for over a year,” Roberts said. “Two percent per year doesn’t even keep up with inflation. It does not offer our employees a decent wage when they’re just jacking all the other costs and fees up. They just don’t come to the table with anything useful. They have an offer that is a really low amount and then they put an expiration date on the offer and they just make it very difficult to try to have any actual negotiations because they won’t agree to our terms — it’s just incredibly frustrating.”
Roberts said the she believes the university is stalling contract negotiations until the AFSCME v. Janus Supreme Court decision comes through — a decision that, if ruled in favor of Janus, would severely hinder the funds of unions across the country.
“As an UPTE member, I feel that they are trying to knock the knees out of the union,” Roberts said. “This is their strategy: they are delaying and dragging their feet, hoping that when that Janus decision comes down, we will no longer be able to collect fair share dues — we may not have a union if we don’t have 50 percent of people actually signing up who want to have collective bargaining, and [the UC is] counting on that.”
According to Ghandi, one reason that the negotiations have taken so long is that the UC has been uncooperative with regards to the issue of compensation.
“One of the main reasons that the negotiations have taken so long for us is that management has not made any reasonable wage offers,” Ghandi said. “UC hasn’t responded back to our recent proposals and they rejected most of our proposals.”
Roberts said that UPTE is really just looking for one thing: “We just want fairness and equity for our employees.”
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — firstname.lastname@example.org