by John | January 30, 2014 1:20 pm
The University of California system’s largest union, AFSCME 3299, announced last Wednesday that it’s scheduled a mid-February strike vote for its 8,300 Service Unit members and a sympathy strike vote among its 13,000 Patient Care Technical Unit members. The union, which represents employees in the custodial, grounds, food service and facilities maintenance departments, says that the contract dispute comes down to two issues: fair wages and safe staffing.
“UC’s newest wage and staffing proposals are a welcome sign, but they still fall far short of what they’ve granted to other UC workers and perpetuate an ever widening income gap at California’s premier public university,” said AFSCME 3299 President and UC Service Worker Kathryn Lybarger. “Now that UC has finally acknowledged its second class treatment of our members, we are hopeful that its negotiating team will work to reach a settlement by addressing the inequities at the heart of this dispute.”
AFSCME 3299, a statewide chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has adopted a unique strike message. Armed with white papers and payroll data, the UC’s lowest-paid workers are building a broad-based coalition that is centered on the best interests of taxpayers. And, surprisingly, AFSCME 3299’s primary target is the lavish salaries and pension benefits for UC’s top administrators.
“There are 7,000 UC employees that make more than the governor of California,” Todd Stenhouse, a union spokesman, told CalNewsroom.com. “It’s the sweetest deal in all of California, and you have to be a UC executive to get it.”
Stenhouse, who quickly rattles off UC payroll figures, points out that those high salaries for administrators hit taxpayers now and later when those highly paid administrators collect their pensions. That’s the case with former UC President Mark G. Yudof, who was the eighth-highest paid public education executive in 2012, according to a recent study by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yudof made $847,000 in total compensation and can expect a sizable pension now that he’s retired. Yudof isn’t alone.
“2,000 UC retirees have +$100k pensions,” Stenhouse said. “Not one is one of our members.”
The union has assembled a detailed white paper, titled, “Runaway Inequality at the University of California: How Sudents, Workers & Taxpayers Fund UC’s Executive Excess.” The bullet points read like those from a taxpayer group or pension reform association:
It even quotes the San Francisco Chronicle’s lone conservative columnist. “UC has a fundamental problem: Administrators apparently believe that they can work in academia for a state university subsidized by state taxpayers and get paid like the top 1.5 percent,” Debra Saunders wrote. “They have no obligation to pinch pennies, no duty to be careful with Other People’s Money.”
The only time UC administrators pinch pennies is when it comes to the janitors and groundskeepers that maintain the university’s world-famous campuses. Stenhouse’s members earn an average salary of just $36,000 per year — with 99 percent of the union’s members being income-eligible for some form of public assistance.
The UC President’s Office said that negotiations with AFSCME are ongoing and more bargaining sessions are set for later this month.
“As we’ve said all along, we believe a strike is not productive and hurts our patients and students,” said Shelly Meron, a spokeswoman for the University of California Office of the President. “These issues need to be resolved at the bargaining table.”
No doubt the UC President’s office is speaking metaphorically. It’s AFSCME 3299 members that are responsible for cleaning those bargaining tables every night at the swanky UC offices. In some cases, they’re cleaning approximately 50,600 square feet in one eight-hour shift.
“UC has reached five new contracts with six bargaining units in the past three months,” Meron added. “As UC President Janet Napolitano said in her remarks to the UC Regents , the university is committed to reaching long-term, multi-year agreements with all of our labor groups.”
AFSCME’s president notes the irony that Napolitano, the former secretary of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, is leading the fight against workers. Napolitano earns $570,000 a year, more than the $400,000 a year made by President Obama. And much of it is paid for by the students. Since 2008, UC tuition has increased by $5,556, or 84 percent.
“It is sadly ironic that at a time when her old boss, President Obama, is working to address the problem of inequity across America, Janet Napolitano seems to be working just as hard to perpetuate it at the University of California,” said Lybarger.
In recent years, the University of California has grown top heavy.
“In the early ’90s, lawmakers and UC administrators began a 20-year ‘holiday’ during which they stopped making contributions to the UC Retirement Plan, hoping that the Internet-fueled stock-market craze would maintain adequate funding for retirees, who now face a $10 billion shortfall,” explained State Senator Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, in an op-ed in the Merced Sun-Star. “During those same 20 years, UC brought on far more administrators and middlemen than professors, teachers, or support staff – creating a high-priced bureaucracy that doesn’t benefit students, their parents or UC hospital patients.”
The numbers are astounding. The University of California has more than 9,000 senior administrators, according to the Sacramento Bee. That’s “more senior administrators than full-time, tenure-track faculty,” and up from 5,400 a decade ago. Stenhouse says that those numbers are growing, not shrinking.
Meanwhile, the number of support staff — the people who guarantee UC hospitals are providing safe care — is shrinking. AFSCME 3299 traces the spike in workplace injuries and growing numbers of fines against UC hospitals for patient safety deficiencies as a result of unsafe staffing levels.
“It takes a whole team to take care of the patient,” said Shirley Toy, a registered nurse at UC Davis Medical Center. “While the nurses were able to win a great contract, we recognize that AFSCME Service and Patient Care workers are an important part of the team, and they deserve that same fair contract too.”
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