12/8/07

AFSCME pickets U. Cal. for comparable pay

As buses honked in solidarity, union employees marched on Sproul Plaza in Berkeley (CA) yesterday for higher wages as their labor contracts with the university approach the Jan. 31 finalization deadline.

American Federal of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents about 12,000 workers in the five UC hospitals and 9,000 employees across the UC system, held pickets on all 10 campuses, including UC Berkeley.

In two separate demonstrations held on Sproul Plaza and near the Foothill residence hall, about 200 workers total assembled to demand higher wages and lower health care and pension costs.

The university’s policies affect all workers, ranging from hospital technicians to campus groundskeepers, said William Schlitz, AFSCME political and communications director. “I think first and foremost, it is wage equity,” Schlitz said. “We’re doing the same work as other public sector workers, but we’re getting paid less.”

The union will be negotiating two separate contracts with the university, one for patient-care providers and another for service employees.

“Management and the union are really far apart,” said Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME member and UC Berkeley gardener.

The union is negotiating for an increase in statewide union minimum wage to $15 per hour for non-certified employees and $16 per hour for trained workers, according to the AFSCME Web site.

The university and the union are still negotiating, and no decisions have been finalized yet, said UC spokesperson Nicole Savickas.

“For a number of years, the state has not budgeted what we feel is necessary to pay our employees market-competitive wages,” Savickas said. “It’s going to take continued state funding to bring our employees’ salaries up to what they are supposed to be.”

Celiwe Jones, a protester and a UC Berkeley custodian since 2000, said she believes the administration does not respect worker seniority.

“For the first two years I was here, they had steps. But now you’re stuck,” she said.

While the struggle is specific to UC employees, it impacts the entire community, Schlitz said.

“We really believe that it is immoral for the UC system to become a mechanism to drive wages down in our community instead of doing the public mission to lift the communities up,” he said.

(dailycal.org)

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