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University employees want salary raise, right to strike

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday August 23, 2001

The Coalition of University Employees Local 3 rallied in front of California Hall on the UC Berkeley campus Wednesday to protest what union representatives called unfair negotiating practices. 

The union, which represents approximately 23,000 clerical workers in the University of California system, including 2,800 who work for UC Berkeley, is in negotiations for a new contract. Among CUE’s top demands are a 15 percent cost of living increase and the removal from the contract of a no-strike clause. 

About 35 people sang along to traditional Woodie Gutherie union songs and listened to speeches by union representatives and Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

“If UC says they can’t pay a decent wage, then they should at least pay a half-decent wage,” Worthington told CUE supporters. 

CUE’s current union contract will expire on Sept. 30. Negotiations began in January.  

Union representatives charged that UC negotiators abruptly canceled a bargaining meeting scheduled for last Friday as a hardball negotiating tactic to get the union to withdraw its proposal to remove the no-strike clause in the current contract. 

But Sharon Hayden, chief negotiator with the University of California Office of Labor Relations, said she canceled the meeting because the proposal to remove the strike clause was sprung just days before the meeting and the Office of Labor Relations needed time to re-examine the entire contract. 

The two sides are scheduled to resume negotiations next week on the UC Santa Cruz campus. 

CUE argues that the university has enough funds to pay increased wages. 

“It’s all theater,” said UC Berkeley CUE President Michael-David Sasson. “They are saying the system doesn’t have enough to raise our salaries, which were 21 percent below market rate in 1999, according to a UC study, but they are funding a five-year, $100 million citrus research project.”  

Debra Harrington, manager of labor relations for UC Berkeley, said the university’s hands are tied. The citrus project was specifically chosen to be funded in the state budget, she said. And although the university requested pay raises for clerical workers, they were denied by the state, she added. 

Sasson said he was highly skeptical of the university’s explanation for refusing the pay increases, but said the current stumbling block in the negotiations wasn’t salary, but the strike clause. 

“The basis of the labor movement is that people have the right to defend themselves against mistreatment,” he said. “And striking is the traditional way for unions to do that.” 

Sasson said that CUE union members should have the right to go on strike if there’s agreement among members that an individual employee or group of employees is being treated unfairly. 

But university negotiator Hayden argued that the no-strike clause is critical. Without it, employees could decide to support political causes at random and use it as an excuse not to show up for work. 

“The union wants the employees to be able to choose to support political causes on a whimsical basis,” Hayden said. “The effect is that the employee comes to work or not depending on how they feel.” 

Sasson contended, however, that the union would strike only as a last resort.  

The current contract took 27 months to negotiate, Sasson said. CUE’s Web site says the university finally ratified the contract in December, within a few months of union preparations for a statewide strike.