If UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl was hoping to enjoy a quiet lunch break Wednesday, he was in for a disappointment.
Over 50 UC clerical employees gathered and demonstrated outside his California Hall office at noon, demanding that their wages be increased to meet the rising cost of living of the past two years. They say they will continue the demonstrations every Wednesday until Berdahl agrees to meet with them.
The employees, carrying pots, spoons, aluminum cans and other noisemakers, circled the hall twice, chanting and making as much noise as they could. They then marched through Sproul Plaza before returning to the chancellor’s building.
“I think it’s shameful, I think UC should be embarrassed,” said Chloe Osmer, a program coordinator for the Center for Labor Research and Education. “Here is one of the most prestigious universities in the world and the clerical workers have to come out on their lunchtime to demand a cost of living increase that brings them just up to what they have lost.”
Marie Felde, UC director of media relations, said that negotiations are going on between UC and clerical staff workers at all nine campuses and will continue in the upcoming weeks. All clerical employees in the UC system work under the same contract, she said.
“People of the university are generally all sympathetic and want as quick and good a resolution to this conflict as those protesting,” Felde said.
However, the clerical workers complain that their salaries on average are 21 percent lower than the market level, while top UC administrators have received 24 percent wage increases over the last two years.
These administrators make over $200,000 annually, said administrative assistant Jane Fehlberg, who has been on a hunger strike for five weeks in protest. She said Berdahl makes $24,542 a month and was given a $40,000 raise last year.
“They had absolutely no problem coming up with 24 percent increases for the highest paid (administrators),” Fehlberg said. “When it comes to paying the people who really need it, who are working an extra job or two, or like me spending their savings paying their rent because we live in one of the most expensive areas in the country . . . they turn their backs on us.”
Elinor Levine, president of the Coalition of University Employees, said that entry level salaries for clerical workers are around $20,000. When top level administrators received raises over the last two years, their wage increases were equal to the annual salaries of many UC clerical workers, which mostly range from $20,000 to $30,000 annually.
CUE, which represents 18,000 clerical employees at the nine UC campuses, is asking for an 11 percent increase in wages over two years for clerical employees. Negotiations began in August 1998.
The university is currently offering only a two percent cost of living increase for last year and four percent for this year, which Levine called “an insult to the working people at the University of California.”
The demonstrations started last month when hunger strikers began meeting outside the chancellor’s office on Wednesday afternoons to drink juice. The “juice-ins” have evolved into demonstrations, which are attracting more participants every week.
Many of the demonstrators wear blue T-shirts that read “Fridays I work for free. Why?” which make a statement about their salaries being 21 percent lower than the market level salary. One demonstrator explained that if a five-day work week is broken up into percentages, each day represents 20 percent. That means that UC clerical employees are losing a whole day’s salary each week.
Levine said that UC has a $1.9 million carryover of unrestricted funds from last year, which could be used for wage increases for clerical staff. However, it is a matter of the university making that commitment, she said.
“A majority of the clerical employees are women, many of us are people of color and the university needs to do what’s right and make a commitment to improve the clericals, who are among the lowest paid employees of the university,” Levine said.