According to a release from UPTE, UC is prioritizing huge salaries and salary increases for top executives rather than the basic funding to keep the university providing high quality research and education.
Meanwhile, UC continues to raise student fees and short-change the staff who provide the world-class education and research for which the university is known. Some 10,000 researchers and techs, represented by UPTE-CWA, are bargaining for basic cost-of-living increases, improved health and safety, and preservation of their health care benefits.
Kevin Rooney, UPTE’s chief bargainer and an EH&S tech at UCSF:
“After a year at the table, we are preparing for a possible strike this spring. UPTE bargainers are not asking for anything unreasonable. Some of our members earn as little as $10.98 an hour — that qualifies as poverty wages in California.”
Thirty percent of techs and researchers leave each year, due to wages that are 20 to 30% below market.
Mr. Rooney added:
“Over 40% of these employee earn less than a family-sustaining wage.”
While some 35,000 other UC employees — from health care workers and nurses, to lecturers, police and custodians — have received average cost-of-living increases of 2 to 5% this year, UC has refused to settle with UPTE’s researchers and techs, a substantial portion of whom are among UC’s lowest-paid workers.
Paul Brooks, a mass spectroscopist at UCB and a member of his union, UPTE-CWA:
“A 20% pay cut to UC’s 400 top executives would save $24.4 million, and would help the university do two critical things. First, it could finally pay a family-sustaining wage to its lowest-paid workers, and second, it would not have to curtail freshman enrollment as drastically as was predicted last January.”
Kevin Rooney argues that aside from executive pay, the university can afford this pay increase if they were so inclined.
“Even aside from the issue of high executive salaries, UC has operating revenues of over $19 billion per year, so this represents a loss in funding of less than 1.2%. Overall, this is a very small dent. In its most recent budget report, UC lists assets of over $6 billion in cash and short-term investments. UC clearly has enough money in reserve to support its obligations to provide fair wages to hard-working employees. There is reason to think UC’s overall funding will increase, because the federal stimulus bill contains billions in increases for medical and other scientific research, a good portion of which will end up in UC research facilities.”
Frank Pinto is one of the organizers for UPTE on the UC Davis campus and works as a Computer Resource Specialist for the university.
“One of the main long term issues is that UC has a history of underpaying its employees… People have been underpaid for ten to twenty years and [their wages] lag behind market. Every time UC has an excuse, they try to get away without having any raises.”
Mr. Pinto went on to cite the many bonuses and raises given to top level executives in the UC system as recently as two months ago.
“They never said they don’t have the money. They only say that they are not going to pay their employees the money.”
Like many others, there are members of the UPTE union collecting public assistance even as they work full time for the university.
“Taking care of lab animals, helping with the research, and they’re unable to take care of the families with the money they get here at the university. The university has been telling us that they are unable to consider any raise at this time.”
Mr. Pinto argues that the economic crisis is applied very unevenly to the various employee groups.
“The economic crisis is really interesting, AIG executives get millions of dollars of bonuses, it’s applied very unevenly. It’s a good excuse to tell people who have nothing and have been working all along, this is a good excuse to tell them, you get less now. There has to be fairness. The economic crisis is no excuse to increase the level of unfairness in the country.”
The chief focus of the university and UC is not aimed at wages but rather health care.
“What they’re talking about doing is increasing our costs for health care. So that in effect, if we have no pay raise, and they increase the amount of money that they’re taking out of our pay for health care then people take home less money every month.”
Angela Kight, works for Theater and Dance Department at UC Davis as a Wardrobe Technician. She comes from a long line of unionists and believes that if they stand together they can achieve their common goals.
“I’m out here this morning because I feel like our bargaining team is being disrespected. The people at UPTE are being devalued and are absolutely no interest to the UC at this point.”
Ms. Kight believes that the UPTE workers have not been properly respected in the bargaining process by the university.
“I really have a problem with the disrespect for our bargaining team. They will not show up as I understand it. The venue in a single day will be changed seven for eight times. You can’t effectively bargain or have a meeting if you’re changing where you’re sitting or office you are meeting in seven times in a day. I also understand that we’ve had one of our bargaining team laid off. That’s unfair labor practice.”
At stake are better wages and a decent benefits.
“I believe that everybody should have the opportunity for negotiation. We certainly don’t want to take more than our share but we also want to have a living wage. We also want to be able to survive in this economy.
On average we’re 30 percent below what the market is for most of our positions. I know that’s true for mine. So we have a real high turnover rate. When you have a really high turnover rate, you get less quality work. We’re here to serve the students, so I think it’s really important that you have people who are dedicated and who are able to survive on what they make here and making close here to what’s the scale for the job is reasonable to request.”
She hopes that this process will enable people to know that UPTE is being treated as they have been and hopes that the university will come to the table with a reasonable offer.
UPTE is hoping this action will raise awareness of their situation and inspire UC to come to the bargaining table in good faith.
—David M. Greenwald reporting