UC Faces Unfair Labor Charge Over Transparency

Dismayed by UC officials’ apparent disregard for sunshine laws before initiating talks for a new pension plan, a coalition — made of some of the largest UC workers’ unions and several community and student organizations — filed unfair labor practice charges against the university this month.

California’s sunshine laws require employers to provide adequate time and information before labor negotiations begin, which the union group said the university failed to do when its leaders requested reopener negotiations over employee pension issues in July. Union workers said that the session was rushed, especially amid negotiations about other labor contracts set to expire in the coming years.

The coalition submitted a statement on Nov. 6 suggesting that the UC system follow proper procedure for giving public notice. The statement, however, produced no tangible effect.

Then, union workers, along with the UCLA African Student Union, Conciencia Libre, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, St. Andrews Missionary Baptist Church, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan de UCLA and UC Berkeley physics professor Charles Schwartz consequently filed official charges on Nov. 10. 

According to Celene Perez, the local representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the coalition is now most concerned with the UC administration’s apparent blatant negligence in releasing information to workers about pension negotiations without delaying other bargaining sessions.

UC Students Association President Bill Schiebler said he felt the same.

“”The UC management was particularly vague about what the breakdown of pensions was going to be and was unwilling to come forward with the information in order to cooperate with the unions,”” Shiebler said. “”Open negotiations are what collective bargaining is about.””

The university, according to UCOP spokeswoman Nicole Savickas, maintains that the unions have received adequate public notice by virtue of the UC Board of Regents’ meetings, UC press releases and the UCOP Web site.

“”We have taken great care to provide timely public information on these and other collective bargaining matters, and we will continue to do so,”” Savickas said. 

Because of prudent management and state economic factors, the UC pension fund has enjoyed an ample surplus over the past 15 years, negating the need for the university or its workers to contribute parts of their wages to the fund. The surplus has since shrunk, and the newest pension proposal by the university entails a 2 percent contribution from workers’ salaries — gradually rising to 8 percent — to the pension fund with no university contributions.

“”The unions agree that pensions can only benefit workers’ futures, but the university should not put the weight of the contributions entirely on workers’ and students’ backs,”” Perez said.

Savickas said that the university wants to retain its current pension fund to attract quality employees.

“”Retirement benefits are an important component in attracting and retaining high-quality people to the university,”” Savickas said.

According to Shiebler, UC administratiors and union workers should collaborate to get more money from the state, rather than cutting workers’ wages to finance the fund. Workers will suffer, he said, unless the state provides sufficient funding. 

Although the California Public Employment Relations Board will rule upon the charges filed against the university in coming weeks, the union alliance has refused to continue negotiations until the university has provided better notification and information on negotiations. The unions indefinitely postponed a bargaining session on Nov. 9 until a compromise is reached.

“”The university needs to wake up and be open with the campus community,”” Perez said. “”UC is for Californians, not just for the top of the administration.””