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UC Workers Rally Against Job Cuts

Friday May 21, 2004

Union employees at the University of California’s nine campuses, including Berkeley, turned out Thursday to protest the university system’s attempt to scale back or eliminate their jobs as a way to deal with state budget cuts. 

According to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME), the UC system currently employees 17,000 service, maintenance and patient care workers whose jobs have been targeted because of budget cuts. Workers, the union and the university are currently re-negotiating the AFSCME contract that is set to expire in June. 

At UC Berkeley, workers and union officials said the cuts have contributed to a general decline in services provided to students as well as a decline in the structural upkeep of the campus. At other campuses that run university hospitals, workers and union officials said the quality of patient care has also declined.  

In the face of recently announced raises for several of the UC’s top executives, both workers and union representatives criticized the university for running a system with mixed priorities. 

“They say cut back, we say fight back!” shouted protesters who stood outsider California hall, revising an old ‘70s era chant while dressed in green AFSCME shirts and wielding signs and  

banners with messages such as “UC works because we do,” and “What’s good for workers is good for students.”   

As part of the demonstration, workers presented Eric Haemer, director of the physical plant and campus services, and Eddie Bankston, executive director of housing and dining services, with hundreds of signed pledge cards that said workers were united to demand better jobs.  

In an interview before the protest, union representatives cited several particular problems at UC Berkeley, including the janitorial jobs lost when UC Berkeley’s extension in San Francisco shut down last year, along with a number consolidations on the main campus where workers are being forced to do more work for the same pay. They also highlighted pay discrepancy, pointing out that union employees on campus have not received merit based raises since 1999 and have not gotten a cost of living increase since 2002. 

In contrast, according to figures released by the UC Office of the President, several top UC administrators recently received significant raises.  

Paul Schwartz, the spokesman for the UC Office of the President, defended the raises, saying they were a necessity to ensure UC can recruit and retain top candidates. He said UC salaries, overall, have also lagged behind comparable institutions.  

“We have to increase [the salaries] because there is no other way to attract the caliber of person needed to maintain institutional competition,” Schwartz explained. 

According to Schwartz, the university hopes to be able to offer system-wide raises again if Gov. Schwarzenegger’s recently released revised budget plan for UC is successful. He said he was glad AFSCME “shared our concern about maintaining institutional quality” and added the university would welcome any support “they can lend to our effort to secure adequate state funding.” 

But for UC workers, future promises are not good enough. Instead of looking to the future, worker representatives said yesterday they want the university to acknowledge their work and restructure the system so that everyone shares the problems of the budget cuts equally. 

On top of pay, union employees said they also have a number of other demands. They say the current system does not allow for much advancement, trapping some employees in jobs that do not pay well enough to survive on. They also said promotions are often based on favoritism instead of experience. 

Efren Palabrica, a senior maintenance worker on campus, said it took him five years of applying and re-applying to get promoted from the janitorial staff to the maintenance staff.  

“I’m lucky,” he said. He said he has seen others struggle for years, even as qualified candidates, and never get promoted. 

As a result of consolidations in many departments, which increase work loads, union representatives said campuses are falling into disrepair. At UC Berkeley, they said the decreased level of grounds and building maintenance is becoming readily apparent. 

Joe Pulido, a senior building maintenance worker who has worked at the university for 24 years, said his crew went from four to just himself in recent years. Now, instead of doing preventative maintenance to upkeep the building he runs, he said he barely has time to fix the various building components that break. 

Even though he has been a UC employee for 20 plus years, Pulido said he still only makes $39,000, and has to work two other jobs to survive. He said he has also topped out in seniority and has no room for advancement. 

“It’s sort of disheartening for me, said Pulido. “When I came to the university, I was so energetic, I wanted to do everything. But that’s wearing thin now. [Management] doesn’t understand that they have a lot of dedicated people giving out a lot of energy. They think we are money hungry.” 

Union representatives said the workers and union alike are concerned that students are facing rising tuition costs and in return are getting lower service quality. On Wednesday, students learned that the UC regents approved a 14 percent tuition increase for next year as part of the governor’s revised budget plan for the system. At the demonstration Thursday, several students also turned out to show their support.