Union representatives urge UC to support bill guaranteeing contractors, UC employees receive similar pay

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Union representatives called on the UC Board of Regents to support a bill that would ensure that workers employed by private university contractors are compensated comparably with university employees doing similar work.

At the regents’ meeting Thursday, advocates of Senate Bill 376 — including union AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger and California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski — publicly asked UC President Janet Napolitano to support the measure.

“When it comes to issues of poverty, Californians expect their public institutions to lead by example in finding solutions — not actively contribute to the problem,” Pulaski said in a press release. “SB 376 addresses this by requiring UC’s contractors to provide equal pay for equal work.”

AFSCME 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse said there is a “growing army” of private contractors who employ workers to do the same work as career UC employees, for as much as 53 percent less pay.

UC spokesperson Shelly Meron said the university looks forward to working with Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens — who introduced the bill — on this issue.

“The university is committed to the well-being and appropriate compensation of its employees, along with appropriate, responsible use of contractors for specific business needs,” Meron said in an email.

The university has about 45 contracts in place covering employees working jobs ranging from custodial to food services — many of whom are immigrants and underrepresented minorities — according to an AFSCME press release.

“Calling us temporary is turning a blind eye to our full-time exploitation,” said Jin Chen at the meeting, through a translator. Chen works as a custodian for a private UC contractor, Impec Group.

The bill was recently passed to the suspense file by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which evaluates some bills that have fiscal impact. Bills sent to the suspense file are generally considered again after the state budget has been prepared, when the committee is more aware of available revenue.

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s analysis of the bill, the university estimates that the bill would increase contract costs by at least $66 million, primarily as a result of the requirement that “bidders” certify that compensation packages have “parity” with those of UC employees. It also estimates UC administrative costs of about $354,000 for contract renegotiation.

According to Meron, the university is continuing to evaluate SB 376 and the potential costs of its implementation.

Public institutions using their market influence to raise pay standards is one way of addressing the growing problem of income inequality, Stenhouse said.

He also noted that supporting the bill is not without precedence for Napolitano, explaining that she has supported living-wage policies and contracting reform in the past as governor of Arizona and as secretary of Homeland Security.

“UC can lead by example to reduce poverty,” Stenhouse said. “We’re asking her to join us in that endeavor.”


Suhauna Hussain covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.