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January 27, 2014
Viewpoints: UC doesn't deserve labor smear tactics

UCPresidentNapolitano.jpg(Jan. 27 - By Dwaine Duckett, Special to The Bee)

For more than a year, the University of California has bargained in good faith with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, offering its service workers above-market wages, good working conditions and excellent health and pension benefits.

Since October, the university has signed collective bargaining agreements with seven bargaining units representing nearly 27,000 nurses, research and technical employees, health care professionals, police officers, lecturers and librarians. Yet a contract with AFSCME remains elusive because the union has shown a far greater appetite for conflict than for reasonable compromise.

In its latest move, AFSCME leadership has publicly accused the university of racism, called for yet another strike vote even as negotiators continue to meet. The union is engaged in a cynical and disruptive campaign that falsely accuses the university of treating AFSCME workers as "second-class."

The public deserves to know that AFSCME's public statements about what they have agreed to are inconsistent with their actions at the bargaining table, where they have consistently refused to note tentative agreements on important items such as pension benefits while continuing to demand more and more.

Such tactics only hamper efforts to reach agreement by driving wedges and hardening positions. Here are the facts.

The university has offered AFSCME service workers a 3 percent wage increase this year and approximately 3.5 percent increases for the following three years. AFSCME service employees already received a 2 percent step increase in the current fiscal year. The proposed increases are similar to, or slightly better than, what other campus-based employees will receive over five years, including those employees represented by CUE and UPTE.

The university also provided AFSCME service employees superior increases in their previous contract that expired last year. Over the course of that contract, AFSCME service employees received a bump of more than 22 percent to their base wages. During this same period, other UC campus-based workers received less or, in some years, nothing at all.

AFSCME service workers - custodians, food service employees and gardeners - currently earn a minimum of $14.52 an hour and as much as $55,000 a year. The wages of UC's lowest-paid AFSCME workers are 20 percent above market, and these are accompanied by excellent pension and health benefits rarely found in comparable positions in the private sector.

Their union, however, is demanding annual increases of about 6 percent, more than any other campus-based employee group has received. These annual increases demanded by AFSCME also exceed those annual increases AFSCME service workers received under the most recent contract.

The university also has offered AFSCME a freeze on health care rates, which has not been on the table for any other union. In addition, UC is willing to agree to AFSCME's demands on retiree health care, pension, paid time off and other matters.

Instead of showing flexibility, however, AFSCME leadership is preparing for yet another strike and has thrown in specious charges of racism to boot.

If AFSCME strikes, this would be the third time in nine months that the union has held patients and students hostage to a contract dispute that the union disingenuously claims is really about safe staffing and patient safety.

And the cost? The May and November strikes have cost the UC system more than $30 million, forced delays to patient care and planted mistrust and worry among employees, students, patients and the public.

Since she assumed the presidency of the University of California, Janet Napolitano has made good labor relations a priority and, in fact, invited AFSCME leaders to meet with her during her first week on the job. Other UC unions have shown the good will and flexibility needed to reach equitable labor accords. AFSCME has not.

AFSCME protesters chant that they will not be treated as "second-class," yet the facts clearly show that the university values AFSCME-represented employees' contributions and compensates them fairly.

"Enough is enough!" is another favorite AFSCME chant. On that we agree.

Dwaine Duckett is vice president, human resources at the University of California Office of the President.