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University clericals make noise about wage demands

By Jia-Rui Chong, Daily Planet staff
Thursday April 11, 2002

Honks from passing cars joined the sounds of whistles, banging pie pans and chants of “What’s outrageous? Unfair wages!” at a noontime rally organized by the Coalition of University Employees in front of the UC Berkeley Extension School on Wednesday.  

CUE, a statewide organization, has been negotiating with the university over clerical workers’ contracts since May 2001. In the most recent round of negotiations, the university has offered clerical workers a 1 percent raise in general salary, on top of the 1 percent general salary raise they negotiated with CUE last year, and a 3 percent raise in the deferred compensation program. But clerical workers don’t think this is enough. 



“I make $1900 a month after taxes. That’s nothing in the Bay Area, with rent as high as it is,” said Denice Kretz, who works at the Extension School.  

“It’s not enough to live on,” she said. 

Kretz also argued that UC clerical workers’ wages were 21 percent lower than the average wages of clerical workers in surrounding areas. 

Other university employees, like John Kelly of the University Professional and Technical Employees union, also came out for the rally. 

“I think we should try to support each other,” said Kelly. “The salary disparity at UC is too wide and it’s really hurting the people at the bottom of the pay scale.” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington spoke to the 50-person crowd, expressing support for the union. 

He praised the workers’ “smart and sophisticated” techniques, pointing to the CUE-commissioned economic analysis by Peter Donohue that contradicted much of UC’s analysis of its own budget. 

“Keep up the trouble!” Worthington said. 

Although CUE held a rally for the same cause and at the same location a month ago, the union didn’t feel that rally had made enough of an impression. The last couple of weeks of negotiations have not brought the two sides any closer to a resolution. 

“Why are we holding another one? Because we need to get their attention. No one’s listening,” Kretz said. 

Indeed, Kretz said they chose the Extension School on University Avenue instead of the main campus, because this location would make them more visible. 

“Apparently the university would rather infuriate their employees and have a public demonstration rather than negotiating seriously with them,” Worthington said. 

UC Spokesperson Paul Schwartz, who did not attend the rally, defended the university. He said the university is doing the best it can, given the current budgetary constraints. 

First of all, Schwartz wanted to clarify the figures cited on CUE handouts. UC data suggests clerical wages lag only 8 to 10 percent, not 21 percent, he said. He added that the 1 percent raise figure used by CUE did not factor in the previous 1 percent raise and the 3 percent raise in deferred compensation, amounting to a 5 percent total raise. The $2 billion surplus that CUE keeps referring to? Encumbered by specific use restrictions and therefore not for workers’ salaries. 

He also said that many university employees are working for wages under market value and the university’s current efforts represent an attempt to remedy that gap. But, Schwartz said, that the university cannot offer the clerical workers anything more than the same 2 percent general salary raise offered to all UC employees, including President Richard Atkinson, all ten chancellors and most of the senior management. 

“Given the current budget picture, negotiations won’t move ahead unless there is a move on their side,” Schwartz said. 

But CUE looks as if it will stand its ground. The union held another meeting on Wednesday night to decide whether they should escalate their resistance and go on strike. They are also planning another rally for April 24 and a press conference for mid-May. UC officials and CUE are due to return to the bargaining table on April 25.