Campus Workers Demand Face Time to Settle Wage Feud

    More than a dozen UCSD service workers organized a walk-in at Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs Steven W. Relyea’s office last week in an effort to accelerate their yearlong negotiations for increased pay.

    Led by UCSD groundskeeper Jorge Olvera, workers requested a sit-down meeting with Relyea, who they believe could use his authority as vice chancellor to convince the UC Office of the President to allocate more money to UCSD service workers, who are among the lowest-paid employees in the University of California.

    “It’s not a matter of greed,” Olvera said. “We are paid 25 to 30 percent less than other workers in San Diego, but it doesn’t have to be this way. [Relyea] understands our struggles, but we want to make sure he understands the crisis: UCSD is one of the lowest-paying UC campuses. We want him to do something we can see, to step up to the plate and put money and power to his words.”

    Relyea was not present at the time of the walk-in, but Chief of Staff Judy Johnson and Director of Labor Relations Keri Donnell promised to deliver Olvera’s message to the vice chancellor.

    Following the walk-in, Relyea was not available for comment, but Johnson said the vice chancellor is aware of the workers’ request and is willing to meet with representatives upon his return from a mid-October trip to Saudi Arabia.

    Donnell also offered to meet with union representatives herself so that the request for a conference could be accommodated before Relyea’s itinerary would allow.

    “The university system is working diligently to settle these important issues,” Donnell said. “I have reached out to the leaders of AFSCME and invited them to meet with me so that I can hear from them.”

    The workers’ call for formal communication is the latest step in a series of negotiations between the university and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees concerning new patient-care technical and service worker contracts. In its most recent proposal, the university promised last month to implement a $13.25 minimum hourly wage by 2012 and a step-based raise system that rewards employees for their experience.

    “All UC employees deserve to be compensated fairly, and we continue to work hard on our side of the negotiations to try to resolve remaining differences,” UCOP spokesman Paul Schwartz said. “But an agreement requires compromise on both sides. We believe our proposals are financially realistic, especially in light of the current state budget crisis, and we remain hopeful that an agreement is near.”

    However, the union refused the offer, claiming that the university can afford more than it is willing to give.

    To help gain public support, UC service workers have launched a Web site, www.FacingPovertyAtUC.org, aimed at documenting their financial struggles through video interviews, news clips and anecdotes. A link is also provided for site visitors to e-mail UC executives and actively participate in the workers’ cause.

    “The UC workers created this Web site to expose the poverty that is created because of [the UC system’s] low wages,” AFSCME Local 3299 President Lakesha Harrison said. “It is intended for students, patients, parents, clergy, politicians and the public to see and hear firsthand how UC executives’ refusal to end poverty wages is hurting their families.”

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