A state mediator brought in to facilitate the bargaining of a new union contract between the University of California and service workers has called off talks between the two sides, according to the chief negotiator for the union representing 7,300 service employees at the nine campuses.
“The mediator has told the parties that she does not believe there is anything further she can do at this time,” said Paul Worthman, who works for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union local 3299.
After months of unsuccessful efforts agree to a new contract after the former one expired in June, AFSCME declared impasses in mid-January and asked the mediator to intervene. The state mediator met with both sides separately, but according to Worthman decided their proposals were still too far apart to continue negotiating.
At UC Berkeley, there are around 700 service employees represented by AFSMCE who clean classrooms and run the student dining halls, among other duties. Two of their main concerns for the contract are pay raises and a step system for job promotions.
Worthman said employees have criticized the university for giving large bonuses to top UC executives while being unwilling to give raises to the service employees. Service workers have not received an across the board raises since October 2003.
“The average salary [for UC service workers] is $12, and one cannot raise a family on $12 an hour,” said Kelley Sebesta, a building maintenance worker.
Noel Van Nyhuis, a spokesperson for the University of California, said the university has been unable to provide system-wide pay increases because of state budget problems. He said the compact agreed to last May between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, UC and the California State schools, which would increase funding for both schools, should allow for system-wide increases. That agreement would go into effect in 2005-2006 but still needs to be approved by the state legislator.
The union, however, contends that only a quarter of the money that pays for service worker salaries comes from state money. The rest comes from self generated fees such as parking permits. They say the university is using the state budget as an excuse.
“To give our members a 3 percent raise would cost less than $100,000 per campus per year of state money,” said Worthman.
Van Nyhuis said even though state money only makes up somewhere around a quarter of UC’s funding, it is largest source of reliable funding, whereas much of the additional funding the university receives is through one-time gifts. He said the university does not want to increase wages, which would create a permanent expenditure, unless it is based on a permanent and reliable revenue source.
The step system would formalize the seniority process. The union wants a system used by other unions which guarantees that employees will move up the job classification ladder each year as long they perform at work. After five or six years, they would reach the top of their job classification.
Currently, the union said, employees are at the will of the university, which decides who gets raises and when they get them, a system they said breeds favoritism.
“We have food service workers at UCLA making $8.32 an hour, and they have been there for five or six years,” said Worthman. “We have other people who have been put at the top of the range after a year or two.”
“People who have worked here for years have still not topped out,” said Maria Ventura, a lead food service worker at UC Berkeley. “They never will unless we get a step system in here.”
Other issues the union addressed in negotiations included what they call “a chance to advance.” According to Worthman, employees want the chance to advance to university jobs that they can make a career out of. Worthman said the university often overlooks qualified service employees and hirers from outside the university when it fills higher level job positions.
Van Nyhuis said the university supports career development for employees and has developed a “career development committee” to help workers map out a career plan.
If mediation does not resume, the union is now free to use traditional tactics, such as a strike, to apply pressure on the university. They were restricted by state law from escalating their pressure on the university until they met with the mediator.
Van Nyhuis said that if mediation ends, the university “will do whatever is necessary to reach an agreement and move forward.”
In the meantime, the union is also going to start a campaign to stop the university from buying service worker uniforms produced by sweatshop labor. According to Worthman, the university has a code of conduct that prevents it from purchasing products made in sweatshops, such as the sweatshirts sold at the student union. He said the union looked at the labels on uniforms and saw they were made in several places that use sweatshop labor including El Salvador, Vietnam and Burma.
“There is absolutely no way to know whether these are being made by eight-year-old girls,” said Worthman. “We are taking this to United Students Against Sweatshops and have talked to Sweatshop Watch. We are hoping to see a national campaign that would require all universities to adopt a code of conduct for the uniforms that their employees wear.”
Van Nyhuis said the university does not support sweatshops and “would definitely like to talk to [the union] about that and deal with it.”2