Not Much Celebration Over UC Clerical Raise By JUDITH SCHERR

Tuesday February 21, 2006

UC Berkeley clericals will get pay raises of about 12 percent—the first increase since 2002—but they’re not dancing in Sproul Plaza. 

“The university has not been fair to the people who deliver critical services,” said Amatullah Alaji-Sabrie, chief negotiator for the Coalition of University Employees, an independent system-wide union that includes all 10 campuses, five medical centers and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

“It’s a terrible indictment of a university that purports to be the best in the world,” Alaji-Sabrie said. 

Had the union held off for a greater increase, however, the rising cost-of-living would have eaten up the benefits, Alaji-Sabrie said. The union ratified the agreement Feb. 16 with 92 percent in favor. 

“We’re very happy that we finally reached an agreement,” said UC spokesperson Noel Van Nyhuis. 

While recognizing that employee salaries continue to lag, Van Nyhuis expressed satisfaction that the clerical workers will get “much-deserved raises.” 

There are about 2,000 clerical workers at UC Berkeley and the office of the president, and 16,000 others system-wide who will see wages go up. The agreement, that went to mediation after a three-day strike in June, gives a 3.5 percent increase retroactive to October, another 3.25 percent next October and a 4.5 percent increase in October 2007. 

These raises, the first since 2002 when workers got a 1 percent increase, were critical and are still inadequate, Alaji-Sabrie said. Some clerks, for example, earned as little as $1,587 per month (which over a year would amount to $16,200) before the raise. (Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley is $1,350, according to Rent Stabilization Board figures.) 

Headlines of late have reported huge payments to UC faculty, such as the $355,000 paid to former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl for a year sabbatical, even though he plans to quit before fulfilling his teaching commitment and a $300,000 payout to another employee who hired a business partner and, when confronted with the inappropriate action, went on leave. 

Asked to compare these kinds of payouts to the clerks’ salaries, Van Nyhuis said that UC “tries to pay market compensation.” He conceded, however, that a study showed UC was lagging in many instances. In response the Regents instituted a plan to bring compensation up to market rates over 10 years. 

Among the clerical workers affected are those who do telephone surveys for researchers, answer phones, process transcripts, prepare proposals and “support the university’s public service mission,” Alaji-Sabrie said. “People are dedicated and loyal to the institution.”  

Library assistants will receive an additional 5.1 percent raise retroactive to October 2005. 

“They earn about 15 percent lower than a comparable class at the state university system,” Alaji-Sabrie said, noting, for example that a library assistant currently earns $1,976 per month. 

“The workers come every day, but they’re living on the edge,” Alaji-Sabrie said.