9/30/07

U. of Cal. threatened with statewide strike Monday

The union of student academic workers and the union representing the majority of university staff are demanding fair labor practices and better benefits and higher wages as the Sept. 30 deadline to finalize their contracts with the university draws nearer.

American Federal of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents 11,500 workers in the five UC hospitals and 8,500 workers across the UC system, held statewide pickets yesterday on all 10 campuses, including UC Berkeley.At the protest on Sproul Plaza, the union demanded higher wages and lower health care and pension costs for workers ranging from hospital technicians to campus custodians.

Meanwhile, United Auto Workers 2865, which represents 12,000 UC academic student employees, including GSIs and TAs, is filing charges against the university for what it called “unfair labor practices.” Union members claim the university has disrespected them at the negotiating table by withholding information and stalling progress in talks.

The academic student workers’ union said if its demands are not met by the contract deadline, workers may strike on Monday. “There’s a good chance that when you show up on Monday, there won’t be any tutors, readers or GSIs in class,” said Dan Roth, a UAW employee.

Nicole Savickas, university spokesperson, said the university is still in the process of negotiating with the student worker union and has not yet finalized the wages of the employees.

According to AFSCME spokesperson William Schlitz, the university pays 15 to 20 percent less to workers than other employers, resulting in a high turnover rate.

“If you don’t have a stable workforce, it will affect your stay as a student, and it will affect your stay as a patient in the hospital,” Schlitz said.

Protester Joe Pulido attended UC Berkeley for two years in the ’60s but dropped out because of the cost. Instead, he began working as a building maintenance worker at a physical plant on campus, a position he still holds today.

“I had this conception of the university being the perfect employer,” Pulido said. “In the last four years, I heard stories of co-workers having problems. I fight not for me, but for my co-workers as well.”

The UAW, whose representatives also joined the rally, holds similar concerns in negotiating their contract. Improving health care for student workers is a priority, said spokesperson Daraka Larimore Hall.

Aside from improved benefits, the UAW wants higher wages, which it says will make the university more competitive with its peers.

The university received state funding for the 2007-08 year for salary increases, and looks forward to increasing salaries to appropriate competitive market levels, Savickas said.

“Things are moving slowly, but we continue to work toward resolution, and look forward to working toward all proposals as quickly as possible,” she said.

(dailycal.org)

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