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UC, Union Discuss Stalled Pact Terms

Friday January 23, 2004

After an initial, incomplete agreement last year between the University of California and the Coalition of University Employee’s Union (CUE) ended a two-year labor battle, both parties are back at the table, sitting down to the negotiate at CUE’s Berkeley offices Wednesday to hash out unresolved issues on the current contract before it expires in September. 

Angry CUE members from across the state gathered outside CUE’s Telegraph Avenue headquarters after marching from campus—part of a strategy to pressure university officials they say are dragging out the negotiations.  

“UC regularly undervalues those who support the students the most,” Amatullah Alaji-Sabrie, president of UC Berkeley’s local CUE office, told the small rally before the march. “The little people are on the march for social justice.” 

Just last May, the two sides drafted a short contract agreement after a long struggle that at one point saw several campuses across the state largely shut down after CUE members walked off the job in a three-day strike with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union. 

Negotiations for the initial contract dragged on for over a year-and-a-half, leaving three key issues unresolved—parking, wages, and benefits. The resulting preliminary agreement included a clause calling for further negotiations to settle on terms, hence Wednesday’s session. 

Final terms were slated to go into effect last October, and any settlement is to include payment for the intervening period. 

CUE’s pay demands include: 

•A 1.5 percent across the board cost of living increase 

• A half-step merit increase, the equivalent of a 2-3 percent raise.  

•A full step added to each classification  

They also want the university to guarantee equity pay for library assistants and police dispatchers—who they say earn less than those in the same positions at California state schools, and whose pay varies from campus to campus—and for the university to move the funds from the incentive awards program into base salary. 

Before the May settlement CUE had demanded a 15 percent pay increase over two years, compromising on a 7.5 percent increase, the first half of which they received in May. The 1.5 percent across-the-board cost of living increase plus the half-step merit increase currently on the table will translate into the remaining 3-3.5 percent. 

Parking has been a consistent issue for the union, which wants the university to adjust parking fees on a sliding scale according to each permitee’s income. During the first round of negotiations, CUE officials said without the 15 percent raise over two years. Members would lose money in the end if forced to pay more for parking. They say the current wage compromise must include negotiations over parking fees. 

As for health care, CUE officials say they’re pleased with the university’s creation of salary “bands” that adjust monthly premiums based on income. Now the union wants the university to cap any future increases and guarantee that health-care costs remain constant for the remainder of the contract. 

CUE members reported mixed feelings about the university’s recent decision to settle with the graduate student instructors represented by the United Auto Workers. 

“We are just not a priority in their budget,” said Claudia Horning, CUE’s statewide president. “We’re thrilled for [the graduate students], but we think [the university] really takes our work for granted.” 

CUE leaders say the state budget crisis gives the university a shield to hide behind, but they insist the picture is much larger. 

“We are extremely concerned about adequate wages and maintaining affordable health care for our employees, but the only way we can give system-wide raises and help shield our employees from skyrocketing health care costs is if the state adequately funds us,” said Paul Schwartz, a spokesman for UC. 

CUE recently hired economist Peter Donohue from PBI Associates in Portland, Oregon, who conducted an analysis of the university’s annual financial report for 2002-2003. According to his findings, while the university did receive a $127 million dollar cut in state funding, the system reported an overall net income increase of $1.9 billion—a 14 percent increase from 2001-2002—leading CUE to believe the university is hiding behind state cuts instead of bargaining in good faith. 

According to Donohue, only one third of CUE positions are funded by state money, figures drawn from the university budget. 

CUE members point to the pot of money called the university’s unrestricted net assets, which according to the university’s financial report totals $4.74 billion. Because these funds aren’t restricted by grant or bond rules, union officials said that could be easily be used to meet their contract demands. 

“[Their] resources are growing, why is the university saying that they facing a fiscal deficit?,” said Donohue. 

UC spokesperson Schwartz, while agreeing that allocation isn’t predetermined by an outside entity, disagrees with the union’s broader characterization of the funds. 

“Unrestricted does not mean the funds are uncommitted or available for any use,” said Schwartz. “All UC funds—restricted and unrestricted—are 100 percent committed each year to UC’s vast array of academic programs, salary and benefits programs for employees, construction projects, and countless other obligations.”  

Nevertheless, CUE representatives say they’ll continue to pressure the university to negotiate on their demands, and once contract negotiations are over for the current contract they hope they can move on to negotiating a longer pact after the current agreement expires in September. 

“I think [the solution] is going to be a combination of things,” said Margy Wilkinson, CUE’s chief steward. “The university is going to have to move into the 21st Century in its approach to labor negotiations. It will also take the commitment of clerical workers to demand what’s fair.”