Brown vetoes bill on UC employment wages, benefits

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Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Friday that sought to ensure benefit and wage fairness for the University of California’s contracted workers.

While Brown acknowledged that state Senate Bill 376, which passed in September, was well intentioned and cautioned the UC system to provide transparent accounting of its relations with contracting companies, he said he was “not prepared to embrace” the provisions of the bill, which would have instituted new requirements for the university’s process of selecting contracting companies.

The bill aimed to regulate the process of competitive bidding, in which the university’s contracts are awarded to the lowest responsible bidder — that is, a firm that offers the lowest prices and also agrees to a contract. SB 376 would have ensured that for contracts exceeding $100,000 annually, the lowest bidder must provide a written statement that its employees will be compensated at rates comparable with those of workers employed directly by the UC system.

SB 376 was introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, in February and has drawn support from groups including the Student Labor Committee at UC Berkeley and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299, though it faces opposition from the university.

Despite the governor’s veto, Lara said in a statement that the Legislature’s support of the bill “makes it clear that the University of California’s current treatment of contracted workers is unfair and unacceptable.”

Brown’s decision comes amid an ongoing conversation among lawmakers, UC students and administrators about the various problems and potential solutions surrounding the university’s employment practices.

The university has seen criticism for contracting out services to companies from several student groups, which allege that these companies do not provide fair wages or benefits to contracted workers.

“We do not believe that the (university) deals with this issue justly or fairly,” said Michelle Morris, a Student Labor Committee member.

In September, UC President Janet Napolitano sent a letter to Brown urging a veto, arguing that the bill would impose several regulations on the university that would seriously undercut its recent efforts to reduce operating costs.

The letter went on to say that the Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan announced by Napolitano in July — a plan that will raise the minimum wage for UC workers and contracted workers to $15 an hour by October 2017 — will address concerns regarding compensation for UC workers.

“We have put into place our own plan, which we believe to be fair and equitable,” said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

While the governor’s veto spells the end of SB 376, Lara said he intends to ensure that UC contracted workers see favorable policy changes. Additionally, the Student Labor Committee plans to continue its “Justice 4 UC Workers” campaign, which was launched this summer.

Contact Maxwell Jenkins-Goetz at [email protected].