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Still No Contract for UC Workers

By Judith Scherr
Thursday September 11, 2008 - 09:42:00 AM

When Maricruz Manzanarez isn’t mopping up at student dorms, she’s out fighting for her fellow University of California service workers across the state. 

Manzanarez’ fight is personal.  

After working full time as a UC Berkeley custodian for nine years, Manzanarez, who lives in Berkeley and is the sole support for three teenagers, takes home about $1,700 each month.  

In a phone interview Monday, Manzanarez said the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is at the bargaining table with the university, fighting to raise the current $10 per hour starting wage to $15 per hour and to gain regular step raises for the workers. 

The bargaining unit includes gardeners, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians. 

The university is offering a minimum wage of $12 per hour in the first year of the contract—an increase from $10 per hour—$12.50 per hour by the second year, and $13 by the third year, according to information emailed by university spokesperson Paul Schwartz. 

AFSCME documents say that 96 percent of the university’s service workers are so poorly paid that they are eligible for state and federal subsidies such as food stamps or low-income housing.  

Asked in a phone interview whether it is possible to survive on $13 per hour in the Bay Area, Schwartz responded, “We don’t control the cost of living in California. Our goal is to provide competitive pay.” 

He noted that the system relies on state funding and is subject to the crisis caused by the current budget stalemate. 

The increases offered “require a significant amount of resources,” Schwartz said. 

The first year’s proposed increase would cost the university $8.7 million; the second year would cost an additional $5.4 million and the third year would cost $2.5 million. 

(The cost of the new Sports Training Facility adjacent to Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley is estimated at $125 million; the cost of the stadium retrofit is still unknown.) 

Manzanarez said the workers are also continuing to fight for a cap on their contributions toward health benefits. 

What they’re asking for won’t make UC workers rich, Manzanarez said. “I’m not talking about a vacation in Hawaii—I want a salary that will take me out of poverty.” 

In a statement e-mailed to the Planet, Schwartz said: “We continue to do what we can on our side of the negotiations to try to resolve remaining differences, but an agreement requires compromise from both sides. We believe our proposals are fair, especially in light of the current state budget crisis, and we remain hopeful that an agreement is near.” 

The two sides have been in negotiation since October 2007.