The University of California and the union representing its 7,300 low-wage service workers announced Wednesday that they had come to a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract after almost 10 months of negotiations.
The agreement comes less than one week after workers at the nine campuses, five medical facilities and Lawrence Berkeley Labs held a one-day strike to protest what they said was the university’s disrespect for their jobs and its refusal to bargain in good faith. The contract has been agreed on by the university and the union, but still needs to be ratified by workers, who are scheduled to vote sometime within the next three weeks.
“We’re really happy with this contract,” said Faith Raider, the spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the union that represents the workers. “It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a major step in the direction of where we want to be.”
A significant part of the new contract is annual across-the-board raises. Workers are scheduled to get a 3 percent increase in October 2005 and October 2006, and a 4 percent increase in October 2007. They are also supposed to get a $250 lump sum retroactive payment because they did not receive a raise last year.
According to the university, the across-the-board raises are dependent on money from the state and could change if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger does not fulfill his compact with the university to provide increased funding in coming years. The union said it is happy about the new raises, but it’s trying to make sure the new contract gives it bargaining power, including the ability to strike, just in case the state money changes.
“We’re happy for our service workers and hope our compact is fully funded,” said Noel Van Nyhuis, the spokesperson for the UC Office of the President.
Other significant parts of the contract include a guaranteed raise for workers who work nights and weekend shifts. This, and one other small across the board raise, will come from UC money that is not tied to the state.
The contract raises the starting wage to $9 an hour, which will help 600 workers, most of them in Southern California. Food service workers at all UC campuses will receive one free meal a day instead of having their meal money automatically deducted from their checks. Food service workers at UC Berkeley were already receiving a daily free meal. The health care program stays the same through 2009.
The contract also addresses the union’s demand for job training programs that will help workers advance their careers. Workers will have 24 hours of paid time to attend classes that either help them improve their current job or train them to apply for a new job within the university. It also insures existing workers are given priority for job openings and clarifies language for promotions and layoffs.
“It’s a start,” said Maria Ventura, a lead food service worker in the Crossroads dining hall at UC Berkeley. She said workers are happy with the raises but hope subsequent contracts guarantee larger increases because the cost of living is rising so fast.
“When you look at [3 percent] in an hourly rate it’s not much,” she said. Still, “[Workers] are happy something was agreed upon.”