UC Increases Pay for Low-Wage Workers

    The University of California has recently announced that it will offer $7.8 million to its 36,000 lower-paid employees in order to increase annual salaries.

    These wage increases apply specifically to those paid $40,000 or less per year and took place April 1. However, negotiators for unions representing campus laborers are still holding talks with the university concerning the amount of money allocated to employees.

    Caroline Buckmaster, president of the San Diego branch of the University Professional and Technical Employees and a staff research associate at UCSD, expressed reluctance about approving of the current agreement.

    “”The university received $3 million of surplus cash from the state,”” she said. “”In the current agreement, only 0.31 percent of that money is being geared toward raising wages for the employees.””

    Buckmaster also said that the seemingly progressive wage increase was unimpressive. The university, she said, is reluctant to hand over too much money, since it is holding out to see how to compensate for those losses by raising the amount of income that must go into employee retirement plans.

    “”They’re giving out crumbs, but at the same time they want to take half a life,”” Buckmaster said.

    Currently, the amount of annual income that a UC employee must put into his or her pension plan is 2 percent. According to Buckmaster, that rate will increase to 8 percent within the next few years, placing a heavier burden on lower-paid UC employees.

    “”It could present a potential problem to low-paid employees already paying high premiums for health insurance,”” she said.

    Though the pension fund currently holds $44 billion in assets, a 2006 Chronicle of Higher Education report said that free coverage from the fund is predicted to fall below 85 percent by 2014, while the remainder would essentially come out of the employees’ pockets. Because such issues are concerning the unions representing 32,000 employees, UPTE and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees bargainers are still debating the exact details of the agreement.

    According to the University Wage Proposal, released last month, those who are a part of the Coalition of University Employees will automatically receive increases to their annual pay.

    Employees who make less than $30,000 per year will receive a 1.5-percent salary increase, those earning more than $30,000 but less than $32,000 will receive a 1-percent increase and those earning more than $32,000 but less than $40,000 annually will receive a 0.75-percent increase.

    These pay raises will affect close to 11,800 clerical employees represented by C.U.E. Those 4,000 nonrepresented employees, however, will receive a different agreement: a 2-percent increase for those with salaries under $30,000, a 1-percent increase for salaries between $30,000 and $35,000 and a 0.5-percent increase for those with salaries between $35,000 and $40,000.

    The proposal, however, shows that UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara received substantially larger allocations than other campuses. Employees making between $25,000 and $27,000 received a 3-percent increase, a $405 bonus that UCSD and other campuses did not receive.

    “”The C.U.E. joint compensation committee asked the UC representatives why the lower-wage staff at UC Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Berkeley received additional funds,”” said Dorothea Stewart, one of the bargainers representing C.U.E. “”We were told that those three campuses were the only ones to respond to [the university’s] request for local campuses to contribute to the equity funds distribution.””

    Stewart also said that C.U.E. is planning another meeting with the university on the matter.

    Such wage increases for lower-paid employees are not a new occurrence for the university. In 2000, the university received $19 million from the state to add to the salaries of those earning less than $40,000 per year. In addition, the university also added money to employee retirement funds to compensate for otherwise insignificant wage increases caused by a lack of state funding.

    Between UPTE, AFSCME, C.U.E. and the university, there have been plans to initiate a salary-based approach to health insurance so that lower-paid employees can live practically within California’s high cost-of-living environment.

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