The University of California, pushing to conclude a year-old contract dispute with 18,000 secretaries, library assistants and childcare workers, has imposed an Oct. 31 deadline on the employees’ union to accept a two-year, 3.5 percent salary increase.
University spokesperson Paul Schwartz declined to discuss the steps UC would take if the clerical workers, represented by the Coalition of University Employees, fail to meet the deadline. But if contract talks linger much longer, he said, the nine-campus UC system might declare an “impasse” in negotiations, sparking possible state intervention in the dispute.
“If contract settlement doesn’t appear to be happening in the very near future, that may be the direction we’re headed,” Schwartz said.
Union officials, who have asked for a 15 percent pay hike over two years, dismiss the Oct. 31 deadline as a “silly, idle threat.”
Margy Wilkinson, chief negotiator for CUE, said the union’s board will formally discuss the university’s offer next week and will likely reject the 3.5 percent increase and issue a counter offer. She declined to speculate on whether the union will reduce its current request for a 15 percent pay hike.
Wilkinson argued that, if the union rejects the 3.5 percent increase, the university would be ill-advised to declare an impasse.
“We really have some bargaining to do and I think it’s irresponsible to go to impasse,” she said.
Wilkinson said the union and university are far apart on wages, but argued that the two sides are close enough on workplace safety and layoff provisions in the contract to justify further negotiations.
Schwartz had no comment on Wilkinson’s argument.
Under California law, if the university declares an “impasse” the state’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which oversees contract negotiations between public employers and their employees, will decide whether there is truly a stalemate.
If PERB agrees that talks have deadlocked, it may assign a state mediator. If the two sides are still unable to reach a resolution, a PERB panel makes a non-binding “finding of fact” and recommends a settlement.
The parties can accept the PERB recommendation, or the university can impose the final contract offer it made before impasse proceedings.
The two sides have been locked in difficult contract negotiations since May 2001, with wages and workplace safety serving as the primary stumbling blocks.
UC Berkeley clerical workers, joined by lecturers and health center nurses, staged a strike in late August. Clericals on four other UC campuses began their own two-day strikes Monday.
The local division of the Coalition of University Employees represents about 2,300 clericals at UC Berkeley and the Oakland offices of the UC president, Richard Atkinson.