University, service workers union reach labor contract agreement

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The University of California and the union representing the largest number of its workers reached an agreement on a tentative labor contract for service workers Wednesday night, ending more than a year of negotiations and canceling a five-day strike planned for next week.

The union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, represents about 8,300 service workers and also about 13,000 patient care technical workers, the latter of which have yet to reach a contract agreement with the university. The service workers and the university tentatively agreed to increase wages 13.5 percent across the board over four years in addition to compromising on issues of pension, job security and health benefits.

The union also announced they would no longer hold a strike at university campuses and medical centers that had been planned for March 3 to 7. According to Dianne Klein, a university spokesperson, the strike would have cost the university about $50 million.

Service workers include custodians and food-service staff across university campuses, medical centers and laboratories.

In addition to the 13.5 percent across-the-board wage increase in the four-year contract, most workers could also receive 2 percent step increases every year for three years, awarded based on experience, seniority and skills, according to Klein. The average service worker annual salary is more than $37,000, according to a university press release.

In addition, health benefit rates for some plans would not increase for the lower-salaried employees under the proposed contract — a freeze that has not been offered to any other union.

These rates are especially important for workers forced to “choose between rent and food, between rent and medicine,” said Todd Stenhouse, a union spokesperson, calling the proposed contract “historic.”

Currently, a UC AFSCME 3299 worker might pay about $12 per month as an individual for a particular healthcare plan, whereas a California State University AFSCME worker would pay almost $150 per month for a similar plan, according to a university press release.

Under the new contract, employees would contribute 9 percent of their incomes to pensions. The contract would also limit the university’s hiring of outside contractors, who do not receive the benefits given to university employees, though the university is already prohibited from hiring an outside contractor if it requires laying off an AFSCME worker, according to Klein.

Union members must now ratify the contract, for which Stenhouse said he had heard great support.

The patient care workers, who include surgical and X-ray technicians, began negotiations earlier than the service workers and have not yet reached a compromise with the university. Though some issues have been resolved, more bargaining sessions are scheduled for later this week, according to a press release.

“I’m hopeful (the new resolution) bodes well for an agreement with the patient care workers,” Klein said.

Contact Sahil Chinoy at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.