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UC clerical workers ready to strike

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Wednesday June 26, 2002

Wages, safety top concerns  


UC Berkeley clerical employees have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike of up to three days, hoping to shake up a year of protracted contract negotiations with the university. 

A strike date has been set, but union members say the threat will have an impact.  

“If you take all the clericals out of the university, things will just stop,” said Sue Meux, an administrative assistant at UC Berkeley’s Extension School. 

But university officials are taking the strike vote in stride. 

“It’s one of those things that unions do,” said UC spokesman Paul Schwartz. “It is in some sense a part of the process.” 

The UC Berkeley clericals, who voted by a six-to-one margin to authorize a strike, are part of the larger 18,000 member coalition of University Employees which represents workers at all nine UC campuses. 

CUE Local 3, which represents clericals at UC Berkeley and the Oakland-based University of California Office of the President, is the only local that has authorized a strike at this point, according to Local 3 President Michael-David Sasson. 

Sasson said Local 3 may wait until other campuses authorize strikes so that CUE can orchestrate a larger action. 

Sasson said the two major issues in contract negotiations are wages and the safety of employees’ work stations. He said inadequate equipment often leads to repetitive stress injuries. 

CUE wants the university to commit to testing every work station and making adjustments where needed. 

“We do take the matter seriously and we are trying to be as responsive as we can and we’re having to work through the details,” said Schwartz. 

The union is asking for 7.5 percent wage increases in each of the two years of the proposed contract, plus 4.5 percent raises each year for employees who advance a step on the pay scale. 

The university, according to Schwartz, is offering a 2 percent raise this year. Next year’s raise will depend on the final state budget, he said, but will likely amount to a 1.5 percent hike for those who qualify for merit pay increases.  

The university is also offering an additional 3 percent deferred raise that would appear in employees’ retirement packages. 

Schwartz said limits on state funding do not allow the university to offer more. CUE has hired an independent economist who reports that the university has an “unrestricted” $2.3 billion surplus that it could tap for salary increases. But the university argues that those funds are labeled as unrestricted for technical reasons only, and are in fact tied up in various legal and fiduciary obligations. 

The union, because it represents public employees, can strike only if the negotiations reach an impasse, requiring a state-appointed mediator, or if the university commits an “unfair labor practice.” 

CUE claims that the university is engaging in an unfair practice by laying off “hundreds” of temporary employees just before they attain “career” status and accrue better benefits. 

Schwartz said the university has a whole host of legitimate temporary employment needs and is abiding by the temporary worker provisions of the last CUE contract. 

The last contract expired in December. Since then, the university and union have been operating in a “status quo” period, during which many of the key provisions of the last contract have remained in place.