UC workers protest after UC moves forward with implementation of wage offer

Mitchell Handler/Staff

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More than 60 workers protested Friday afternoon in front of the UC Office of the President in Oakland after the University of California decided to implement its latest wage and pension offer for service employees.

The Oakland-based union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 gathered in response to the university’s decision to legally implement its latest offer in a contract dispute between more than 8,000 service employees and the UC system. The policy will affect the percentage of wages distributed toward the revised pension plan. The university made its last offer Sept. 24 with what it said in a statement was a “reasonable approach to pension reform,” a proposition AFSCME declined.

Under the new plan, AFSCME service workers will be subjected to a two-tiered pension system, which allocates 6.5 percent of worker pay toward pensions for those hired prior to July 1, up from the previously allocated 5 percent. Workers hired after July 1 must contribute 7 percent. The university will also contribute 12 percent of employee pay to pensions, a jump of 2 percent.

The line of demonstrators, composed mostly of UC Berkeley service workers, marched in front of the UC building entrance holding signs and chanting “raises for them, crisis for us” and “implementation equals theft.” Marching was accompanied by intermittent recesses, during which workers converged around AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger, Shop Steward Arnold Meza and Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who each addressed the crowd.

“It’s time for AFSCME to stand up for UC workers,” Worthington said. The university has “chosen negation, not negotiation,” he said.

Worthington described the implementation of the new policy as “extreme” and “unreasonable.” Additionally, he brought up concerns that the UC system might create a precedent whereby it will move to implement offers without completing negotiations with workers.

UC spokesperson Shelly Meron reiterated statements made by the university earlier in the week, saying the changes bring about “necessary pension reforms that will ensure the long-term viability of our retirement program.” Meron indicated that eight other unions representing 14 bargaining units and nonrepresented employees have already adopted these reforms.

But service workers painted a different picture at the protest. Maria Sonia Munsino, a food-service employee at UC Berkeley, characterized the negotiations as a struggle between workers and executives. With the help of a translator, Munsino said she is worried that benefits under the future implementation would “not be able to support her family of four.”

According to AFSCME’s Facebook event page, the protest was scheduled to run from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. There were no police officers present, and the demonstration remained as peaceful as it began.

Meza said that there are further demonstrations planned and suggested that workers might strike later this year, although he did not offer any further specifics on when that might take place.

Mitchell Handler contributed to this report.

Contact Jeff Landa at [email protected].