2/29/08

AFSCME pay protests disrupt Berkeley

More than a hundred employees marched on campus yesterday to protest the university's latest proposal concerning patient-care employees, low wages and high health care costs.

Workers from American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents about 11,500 employees in the five hospitals and 9,000 employees across the UC system, held pickets at all 10 campuses yesterday, including UC Berkeley. "(The university) gives and chooses who they want to pay, and they are still leaving the vast majority of the workforce in poverty and understaffed," said union president Lakesha Harrison.

In two separate protests held on campus, workers demonstrated against the proposals the university has been offering them since negotiations with AFSCME began in August 2007. The union is negotiating two separate contracts for its patient-care providers and service workers.

The university contract with its patient-care workers expired last September, said William Schlitz, AFSCME political and communications director.

Two days ago, the union turned down a proposal that would have increased wages for certain patient-care employees, raising the average statewide wage to $20.75 an hour until a new contract with the workers is finalized, said UC spokesperson Nicole Savickas.

"I am not sure why the union rejected our proposal. The purpose of the proposal was to offer a short-term solution that would extend to September of 2008," Savickas said.

The proposal would have provided almost $16 million to UC patient-care employees in annual wages and other benefits, while leaving retirement and welfare benefits unchanged, she said.

But AFSCME representatives said the proposed wage increase was inadequate, especially given the high standard of living in the Bay Area.

"The UC is good at using numbers to making things sound bigger than they actually are. Sixteen million dollars actually comes down to (an increase of) 38 cents per hour," Schlitz said.

A study, published by the Center for Labor and Community Research in January, shows that the university pays workers 25 to 30 percent less than comparable institutions do, Schlitz said.

"Most of our workers are at least 26 percent behind the market," Harrison said.

But Savickas said the proposals offered by the university have brought the salaries for patient-care providers up to the market-competitive level.

AFSCME members are also negotiating with the university for a step system, which will give bonuses to employees after every year. According to a joint study conducted by the university and AFSCME, 94 percent of comparative institutions have a step system.

"Our problem is that we are trying to pull our members out of poverty. The university is paying us poverty wages, and we will continue not to accept poverty wages," said Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME member and protester.

(dailycal.org)

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