Clerical walkout will coincide
with start of classes Monday
About 2,300 clerical employees at UC Berkeley and the Oakland-based Office of the President, which oversees the nine-campus University of California system, will begin a three-day strike Monday, union officials announced at a campus rally Wednesday afternoon.
The long-expected strike, rooted in salary and workplace safety disputes, will coincide with the start of fall classes. But university officials say they have made contingency plans and contend that the work stoppage will not have a significant impact on day-to-day operations.
“This is just a three-day strike,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Carol Hyman. “We see classes beginning on Monday just as they would.”
Fifty nurses from UC Berkeley’s health center, represented by the California Nurses Association, and some 600 lecturers, represented by the University Council–American Federation of Teachers, will join the clericals in “sympathy strikes.”
The nurses will strike for three days and the lecturers will strike for one day, on Wednesday.
The university contends that the impending strike, which would be the first clericals’ work stoppage since 1972, is illegal.
But the Coalition of University Employees, which represents the UC Berkeley workers and a total of 18,000 clericals across the UC system, argues that the university has engaged in a series of “unfair labor practices,” allowing the union to strike legally.
University spokesperson Paul Schwartz said UC will pursue legal remedies against the California Nurses Association, which has a “no strike” clause in its newly-inked contract with the university.
UC and the clericals’ union have been negotiating a systemwide contract for more than a year and the university made a final offer during an Aug. 7 negotiating session. If the union rejects the offer, which they haven’t, and the state declares an official impasse, the two sides will go to mediation.
UC and the union have reached agreements on 37 of 48 contract areas but are deadlocked on wages and workplace safety.
The union is asking for a 15 percent pay raise over the course of two years. The university is offering a 2 percent raise for 2001-2002, a 1.5 percent raise for 2002-2003, pending state funding and 3 percent in deferred compensation that would show up in employees’ retirement packages.
University officials say they cannot offer higher wages because they are constrained by state funding limitations.
“These numbers are driven by state funding,” Schwartz said. “If we got more state funding, we’d offer more.”
Schwartz said it is time for the union to take a more realistic approach to wages.
“We can only control our side of the equation and we’d appreciate it if the union did likewise,” he said.
The union, in turn, contends that UC has a $2.3 billion unrestricted surplus that it could tap to offer higher wages.
But the university says it needs that money to keep all its programs running and could only offer higher wages if the state provided funding for that purpose.
CUE is also asking the university to test workplace stations for all its employees, determine whether they are creating repetitive stress injuries and replace any hazardous equipment.
According to the union, the university is only offering to test stations for new employees and will not guarantee replacement of faulty equipment.
“They’re trying to defend their right to cripple,” said Michael-David Sasson, president of Local 3 of CUE, the Berkeley branch of the union.
Schwartz would not discuss the details of the university’s offer, but said UC is working to address the issue.
“We take the matter seriously and our proposals reflect our concern over the issue,” he said.
Hyman, the UC Berkeley spokesperson, said she expects students to wait in longer lines next week as a result of the strike, but does not foresee any major disruptions.
She said the university’s health care clinic, the Tang Center, has canceled appointments early next week in anticipation of the nurses’ sympathy strike. But the center will keep its urgent care unit open under the supervision of doctors and will see drop-in patients, Hyman said.
The university will have security on hand during the strike, but Hyman said she does not expect any labor-related violence. The university, on its web site, has assured employees that they can attend work and will be protected if they cross the picket line.
Hyman said the university may postpone deliveries until after the strike to avoid problems with unionized delivery workers who do not want to cross a picket line.
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