Just two months after hundreds of UC Berkeley office assistants, childcare workers and library assistants walked off the job, the university’s clerical employees, locked in a bitter contract dispute with the university over wages and workplace safety, began a new round of voting Tuesday to authorize a second strike.
“Even after the strike that was held in August, the university continues to engage in unfair labor practices,” said Amatullah Alaji-Sabrie of the Coalition of University Employees, which represents 18,000 clericals across the nine-campus University of California system. “They haven’t gotten the message for whatever reason.”
But university officials, who consider the August strike illegal, warned against a second work stoppage.
“Strikes are only going to aggravate and delay contract settlement,” said university spokesperson Paul Schwartz. “At the end of the day, we need to resolve our differences.”
The rank-and-file has until Oct. 30 to cast a ballot on strike authorization.
The strike authorization measure does not specify a date or duration for a second work stoppage. Instead it provides the executive board of CUE Local 3, which represents 2,300 clericals at UC Berkeley and the Oakland-based office of UC President Richard Atkinson, with broad authority to set future strike dates.
UC Berkeley lecturers joined clerical employees in the August strike. Michele Squitieri, field representative for University Council-American Federation of Teachers, which represents the clericals, said it is “very possible” that the lecturers would walk off the job again if CUE launches a second strike.
Lecturers at all nine campuses are locked in a two-and-a-half year contract squabble with the university, calling for greater job security and higher wages.
UC clerical employees, at all nine campuses, have worked without a contract for more than a year. CUE and the university have been locked in combative talks for months.
The union is asking for a 15 percent raise over two years and the university is offering a 3.5 pay hike, including a 1 percent raise that went into effect last year.
Union officials contend that the 1 percent raise was part of the previous contract and that the current offer really amounts to 2.5 percent.
Whatever the exact figure, university officials say they simply cannot afford to offer more because of limited funding provided by the cash-strapped state.
Union officials contend that the university could tap $2.3 billion in unrestricted funds to pay for a better raise, but UC says the money is wrapped up in other projects.
On Friday, the university set an Oct. 31 deadline for CUE to accept the 3.5 percent offer. Union officials have brushed off the deadline as a “silly, idle threat.”
The first day of the strike authorization vote coincided with a campus demonstration that drew about 100 clericals, lecturers and labor supporters to campus.
Speakers at the rally, including State Rep. Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, and District 8 City Council candidate Andy Katz, called for better wages and job security.
Activists also expressed solidarity with hundreds of clericals and lecturers in a second day of strikes on five UC campuses in Davis, Irvine, Riverside, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.
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