By Kathryn Lybarger | Special to The Bee

In Dwaine Duckett’s commentary “UC doesn’t deserve labor smear tactic” (Viewpoints, Jan. 28), he alleged that it was unreasonable for AFSCME-represented UC employees to demand the same respect and dignity that is afforded other UC workers who serve the same people in the same facilities.

This is why UC has a labor-relations problem.

And it’s why the income gap at UC – a public university subsidized by taxpayers – is starting to look more and more like the income gap at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart.

Duckett is one of more than 7,000 UC employees who now receive larger salaries than the governor of California, while 99 percent of the UC service workers he criticized (making an average salary of $36,000 per year) are income eligible for some form of public assistance.

No one voted to give Duckett or any other UC administrator the authority to raise taxes. Yet that is precisely the effect of UC’s insistence on poverty-level wages for thousands of its lowest-paid workers who are dependent on social service programs financed by California taxpayers.

But these workers face even bigger challenges. According to OSHA, workplace injuries among the UC service unit are up more than 20 percent in the last five years. And according to the state Department of Public Health, the number of government fines being levied against UC hospitals for safety violations has also skyrocketed.

Both could be addressed by AFSCME’s No. 1 priority at the bargaining table – safe staffing standards that ensure enough qualified people are doing the job of maintaining UC facilities and serving the students and patients that rely on them.

That Duckett remains tone-deaf on this issue – despite granting these same standards to other UC workers – only confirms that there is a double standard being applied at UC. And it has both costly and dangerous consequences.

All told, there were more than 40 contract articles up for negotiation between AFSCME and UC. AFSCME has already conceded to UC’s position on more than 30. That means UC has already gotten more than 75 percent of what it wants.

This includes UC’s top priority of pension reform, which requires UC’s lowest-wage employees to pay more so that UC can shell out an increasingly obscene number of six-figure payouts to its highest-paid administrators every year.

On wages, UC has already given its other bargaining units annual across the board increases of 3 percent to 4 percent, plus step increases (which apply to only a fraction of each bargaining unit), for each year of a four-year contract.

For AFSCME 3299 members like UCLA food-service worker Henry Avilla, a comparable increase would mean an extra $30 a week – and possibly, the chance to live somewhere other than his car.

The problem is, UC has offered AFSCME 3299 members no such deal. Instead, UC has offered its lowest-paid workers annual across-the-board wage increases of 1.88 percent – a fraction of what it has given other UC employees, and still less than the cost-of-living adjustment it granted to UC retirees last July.

In other words, while President Barack Obama is asking the rest of America to help close the income gap – UC is trying to widen it.

It is worth reminding Duckett that it was UC that elected to bypass the collective bargaining process and unilaterally impose contract terms on all AFSCME-represented workers last summer. For service workers like Avilla, the imposed terms amounted to a cut in take-home pay. No other bargaining units at UC were singled out in this way.

You don’t have to be a vice president of human resources to see this as second-class treatment.

The fact is, what UC is spending on strikes in order to perpetuate its unfair double standard against AFSCME-represented workers would be better spent settling this contract.

And if UC is really serious about addressing its labor relations problem, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

Kathryn Lybarger is the president of AFSCME 3299, the UC system’s largest union.

[Source]: Sacramento Bee