AFSCME vs. University of California: Show AFSCME the money

Workers say University of California has plenty

Bill Clinton wouldn’t cross the picket line to give the graduation address at UCLA earlier this month. Now, Assembly Speaker Emeritus Fabian Núñez has canceled his June 11 commencement speech at UC Davis, in solidarity with University of California workers laboring without a contract.

UC has been negotiating without success with the Oakland-based American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for its patient-care unit since last August, and over the past seven months for other service workers.

It’s not surprising Núñez, the former labor organizer, would take the union’s side. But the union’s case is also bolstered by a report of a “neutral fact finder,” hired by the UC to help sort through the contract mess. The fact finder, Carole Vendrillo, recently backed up the union’s assertion UC has the funds to increase the pay of its service employees. “It is not a lack of state funding but the University’s priorities that leaves the service workers’ wage at the bottom of the list,” Vendrillo said in a May report.

If you have visited a University of California campus, hospital or student health center recently, chances are a member of the AFSCME Local 3299 helped you.

Their 1,300 service workers and 2,600 patient-care techs staff Sacramento’s UC Davis Medical Center and the UC campus in Davis.

But according to the union, UC pays its patient-care and service workers wages which are, on average, 25 percent below what workers make in comparable jobs at California community colleges and Kaiser and Sutter Health hospitals.

“We’re asking for equal pay for equal work,” said John Tinker, a magnetic resonance imaging technician at UCDMC.

In mid-April, UC and AFSCME reached an impasse in talks for a new contract for service workers, whose ranks include bus drivers, cooks, custodians, gardeners and parking attendants. Nearly 100 percent of the union’s rank and file, upset at the collective bargaining stalemate, planned to walk off the job in the beginning of June. But the state Public Employment Relations Board, reasoning that AFSCME workers were crucial to daily patient care on the 10 campuses and five medical centers, halted the two-day walkout and ordered both sides back to bargaining.

Leticia Garcia-Prado is a member of the AFSCME bargaining team and a medical assistant at UCD’s Cowell Student Health Center. She checks in new patients, takes their blood pressure and other vital signs, assists doctors as necessary and makes follow-up patient appointments. In a typical workday, Garcia-Prado cares for up to 40 patients. She earns $14 per hour now, up from $10 an hour 10 years ago. Kaiser Permanente hires new medical assistants at $19.46 per hour, according to AFSCME’s figures.

This wage gap causes UC staffing shortages, the union says. UC took two years to hire a new medical assistant at the UCD student health center, and newly hired patient-care workers often leave for higher-paid employment at other hospitals, said Garcia-Prado. “It’s a constant revolving door.”

The demand for health-care workers is strong across the United States. In fact, the sector is one of the few adding jobs as the slowing economy cuts business spending on new workers.

AFSCME is demanding a minimum starting pay of $15 per hour for all UC workers. Currently, some service workers earn the beginning wage of $10.28 per hour. Vendrillo’s May fact-finding report included workers’ testimony, including that of Juanita Cannon, a UCDMC housekeeper, who testified that she is unable to buy needed prescription medication on her salary. The union also said 96 percent of the UC service workers are eligible to receive public assistance to pay for food, health care and shelter.

Vendrillo “recommends that the University retire the ‘open range’ pay scale and make the $12 hourly wage rate the bottom rung of a new step system” for the service workers’ unit.

Nicole Savickas, a university spokeswoman, says UC is proposing wage increases of 4 to 15 percent for the first year of the contract, plus changing to a step system of wages for the patient-care workers.

But Savickas disagrees with the union’s assertion of staff turnover harming UC patient care with an over-reliance on temporary workers. “We’re not seeing that,” she said. And Savickas said UC is not having difficulty recruiting and training new employees.

Just ask new UC president Mark G. Yudof, who officially started the job on June 16. His compensation for the 2008–2009 year will be $828,000, according to a UC statement. Yudof, who has promised “cost savings among the campuses,” gets a monthly car allowance of $743, plus UC-provided housing.

“It’s greed, the huge execs’ bonuses and salaries. UC has tons of money,” Tinker said.