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Another obstacle for UC clericals

Jennifer Barrios Special to the Daily Planet
Friday September 13, 2002

While clerical workers sat down to discuss contracts with UC administrators Thursday – the first meeting since last month’s three-day strike – negotiators had at least one additional worry on their minds. 

Another campus union may be making the job of negotiating a pay raise for clericals, represented by the Coalition of University Employees (CUE), more difficult. 

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents service workers on campus, has a contract with the university. It gives its employees a raise if other union employees get raises. Known as a “me-too” clause, the AFSCME provision, according to AFSCME officials, goes into effect if either the Coalition of University Employees’ clericals or certain technical and health care workers on campus get more than a 2 percent raise for fiscal year 2001-2002. 

The me-too clause means that CUE is essentially bargaining for two unions – itself and AFSCME, union officials said. If CUE is successful in getting its desired 15 percent pay raise, which would cost the university $100 million over two years, the university would be forced to shell out additional millions for AFSCME employees. 

CUE, which represents 1,900 telephone operators, childcare workers, administrative assistants and other clerical workers at UC Berkeley, is pushing for its pay raise over two years. But UC is sticking to its offer of 3.5 percent over a two-year period. After months of negotiations, neither side has shown much flexibility. 

President of Local 3 of CUE Michael-David Sasson said that the me-too clause hurts CUE’s bargaining position enough so that the union has moved to file a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board asking the me-too clause to be voided. 

The negotiations impact 18,000 clerical workers throughout the UC system. 

"One of [CUE’s] unfair practices was that the university had agreed to another contract with another party to language that effectively tied their hands in relationship with us," Sasson said. 

But UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz denied that the “me-too” clause pertained to salary negotiations with CUE. 

Schwartz said the university’s position that a raise of 2 percent for the 2001-2002 fiscal year – part of the two-year 3.5 percent offer – is the only workable proposal. A 2 percent raise would not activate the “me-too” clause in the AFSCME contract, according to union officials. 

CUE employees have been without a contract since November 2001 and raises are expected to be paid retroactively for the 2001-2002 fiscal year. State budget cuts have limited what UC can offer, Schwartz said. 

AFSCME officials downplayed the harm done to CUE because of the “me-too” clause. They said the clause fosters fellowship between them. 

"A ‘me-too’ clause assures that low-wage workers won’t be pitted against each other," a spokesperson said. 

Margy Wilkinson, CUE’s lead negotiator, said that the provision only applies to across-the-board increases, otherwise known as cost-of-living increases, and could be circumvented through other types of raises. 

“There are many other things that the university could offer us that would not bring that into play,’ she said. “They could make adjustments without invoking the language in the AFSCME contract, including the one thing we’ve talked about a lot — merit increases.” 

The clerical workers represented by CUE were once represented by AFSCME, and though the recent strike illustrated solidarity among campus unions, the struggle for representation caused conflict in the mid ’90s. 

CUE was formed in 1995 as an alternative to AFSCME. 

“It wasn’t responsive to us and the contracts were consistently weak,” said David Kessler, a longtime library assistant at Bancroft Library who was once represented by AFSCME. “AFSCME was interested in harmony with UC and collecting dues. They were after labor peace, not labor justice,” he said.