University of California clerical workers overwhelmingly have approved a new contract, ending a bitter, two-year fight with UC management over wages and workplace safety.
The contract, a compromise crafted by a state mediator in March, gives 18,000 administrative assistants, library assistants and child care workers at UC’s nine-campus system a 2.5 percent raise over two years.
The deal affects 2,300 local workers, both at the UC Berkeley campus and Oakland’s UC Office of the President.
Approval, by a 2-to-1 margin, marks a victory for the university, which has argued for months that it could only afford a 2.5 percent hike, given the state’s fiscal crisis.
The vote, taken last month, was announced Thursday.
“We believe this agreement is a fair and balanced compromise considering the significant state funding constraints we’re experiencing,” said Judith Boyette, UC associate vice president for human resources and benefits, in a statement. “We’re very pleased the union and its members have chosen to accept this agreement.”
Union leaders with the Coalition for University Employees (CUE) said they are pleased with improved layoff protections and modest gains on workplace safety. But they argued that the university could have tapped a $4 billion unrestricted reserve to fund a 15 percent wage hike.
“We all know the university has lied to us about their ability to pay us better wages,” said CUE President Claudia Horning in a statement. “Clearly it will take more pressure from all the unions to get a wage offer that we all need and deserve.”
University officials have long argued that the reserve, while technically unrestricted, is wrapped up in various financial obligations that cannot be ignored.
“All UC funds are 100 percent committed each year and there are no rainy day reserves full of money for salary increases,” said UC spokesman Paul Schwartz.
Union member Malla Hadley, a UC Berkeley scheduling coordinator, said she is skeptical of the university’s explanation. Ultimately, she said, she voted in favor of the contract because she didn’t think UC would bend in difficult economic times.
“It’s impossible for us to expect that we’re going to see huge gains when people are being laid off left and right,” she said.
The two-year contract battle spawned a nasty war of words that peaked in August 2002, when clerical workers at UC Berkeley joined lecturers in a two-day strike. Two months later, clerical workers at UC campuses in Santa Cruz, Davis, Riverside and Santa Barbara staged their own walk-outs, joined again by lecturers.
In January, state mediator Micki Callahan intervened at the request of both parties and eventually hammered out the compromise contract. Union officials were not entirely pleased with the result. But after two years of negotiations, they decided to turn it over to their members for a vote.
“It seemed to us that it was time to let the members decide what to do,” said CUE chief negotiator Margy Wilkinson.
The union leadership remained neutral on the contract but workers, who had gone two years without a raise, voted 1,557 to 831 to approve Callahan’s proposal.
The new contract covers the period from September 2001 to September 2004. CUE’s previous contract expired in the fall of 2001, and clericals have been working under the terms of their old contract for 16 months.
Toni Mendicino, a UC Berkeley secretary, said she was disappointed with rank-and-file approval of the new agreement. “The wage is so inadequate,” said Mendicino, who earned $26,000 last year working four days per week. “The cost of living in California and our recent health and parking increases alone have offset the raises.”
Scheduling assistant Michael-David Sasson, president of the CUE unit at UC Berkeley, said the wages were particularly insulting given a February report in the San Francisco Chronicle which found that upper-level administrators won 30 to 40 percent raises between 1996 and 2002, while clericals got 2 to 4 percent hikes, reaching an average salary of $33,138.
Schwartz, the UC spokesman, declined to “rehash old issues.” But he told the Chronicle, in February, that large pay hikes are necessary to retain top-level administrators.
“The market for clericals is very different than for senior managers, and we do not face the pressures or recruitment and retention issues with clericals that we do with senior managers,” Schwartz told the Chronicle.
Mendicino said UC Berkeley union members will begin gearing up for the next contract fight shortly. Workers will meet next week, she said, to discuss improving communications with clericals on other campuses and boosting CUE’s overall membership.
About one-third of UC’s 18,000 clerical employees belong to the union, although the CUE contract covers all the workers.