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Lab employees stage one-day strike

By John GeluardiDaily Planet Staff
Thursday March 15, 2001

Claiming the University of California has not fairly negotiated a new labor contract, laboratory technicians and firefighters staged a one-day strike at the entrance to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Wednesday. 

About 60 LBNL union employees participated in a strike action along Cyclotron Road, near the entrance to the laboratory early Wednesday morning, greeting fellow workers with strike signs and shouts of “take the day off,” and “support workers, honk your horn.”  

The University Professional and Technical Employees contract expired in September and for nine months the union and the university have been negotiating for a new statewide contract that will cover technical workers throughout the nine-campus UC system – LBNL comes under the purview of the UC Regents. On Monday workers staged a one-day strike at the UC San Francisco campus. Union representatives said more strikes will be scheduled at other campuses. 

UPTE represents various types of workers including fire department employees and radiation and laboratory technicians. There are 300 UPTE employees at LBNL and 10,000 system wide. 

Union representatives claim that in addition to a general pattern of bad faith bargaining practices, the University of California negotiators have violated the state’s Unfair Practice Law by not providing data necessary for negotiations. The union’s attorney, Oakland-based lawyer James Eggleston, filed a claim of unfair practices against the university with the state Public Employment Board on Jan. 25. 

UC spokespeople and negotiating staff deny the union’s charges saying they have offered fair salary increases. UC’s Chief Negotiator Peter Chester said the university has tried its best to work with the unions.  

He said the unions know negotiations are ongoing and they are simply trying to put pressure on the university to get larger raises. 

UPTE systemwide coordinator Daniel Martin said the union requested individual employee data from the university to determine if a merit-based salary system negotiated 15 years ago has been abused to favor  




some employees. The merit-based system increases salaries based on performance rather than a mandatory-raise system. 

“There’s no accountability for the merit-based system,” Martin said. “An outstanding employee in one department might get a 4 percent raise and someone else in another department will get a 6 percent raise and there’s no record of who’s getting what.” 

Martin said they requested individual race, ethnicity and gender salary data to determine if the university was favoring white workers. 

Chester said the university has cooperated with the majority of the union’s requests for information.  

“The underpinning of the unfair practice charge is that we did not provide the union with the information they requested,” Chester said. “In fact, they are up to date with all the information they’ve requested except the individual salary data which we can’t provide because it would violate the individual employee’s right to privacy.” 

Martin said the university’s reasons for not supplying the individual data was a smoke screen. “All they have to do is ink out the employee’s name,” he said. “They gave us the same information last year for non-unionized employees.” 

LBNL Fire Captain Wayne Nordby said the 15 firefighters employed by the laboratory are paid 20 percent less than firefighters in Berkeley or the at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. 

“The last three guys we’ve hired are commuting three hours each way because they can’t afford to live in the Bay Area on what LBNL is paying,” he said. 

Mayor Shirley Dean, who participated in the strike action to show support for the firefighters, said it’s important that LBNL have experienced firefighters because of fire danger posed by nearby wildlands. 

“If another fire were to come up from the wildlands, like it has twice before in 1929 and 1991, these guys are the first responders,” she said. “It’s so important that there are qualified and experienced firefighters here.” 

LBNL spokesperson Ron Kolb said it’s true the laboratory’s firefighters are paid less than those for the City of Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory but there are also different circumstances. “There is a larger radius of responsibility for both those fire departments,” he said. “Berkeley has a variety of fire dangers it has to worry about and the firefighters at LBNL are required to have ‘acute clearance’ because its a nuclear facility.” 

Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, D-Sylmar, who is the Assembly Budget Committee chair, is watching the system-wide union negotiations carefully. His Chief of Staff Jose Cornejo said the university has a history of not being forthright with union employees. “The assemblyman wants to make sure the workers are treated fairly and will do what he can to ensure that they are,” he said.  

Cornejo said they will pay close attention to how the University responds to the workers during the 2002 budget discussions which have begun and will continue through May. 

The nine campuses in the UC system received $15 billion in funding last year compared to $5.1 billion for the 20-campus California State University system.