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Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

On Wednesday November 10th, the Members of Local 3299 AFSCME will be having a major rally when UC representatives come to the campus for state-wide bargaining. The rally will take place at 12:00 noon in front of the Baytree Bookstore on the UCSC campus.

Over 7,000 UC Service Workers and Local 3299 AFSCME Members serve food; clean bathrooms, dorms, labs, offices, and hospitals; drive shuttle buses, and park cars at the nine UC campuses and five medical centers. Their contract with UC expired June 30, 2004, and UC has so far rejected all proposals to improve it. Workers are demanding more support for the quality services that we provide, a fair pay system with steps that respect our years of experience, and a real chance to advance.

The median wage for UC Service Workers is $12.05 per hour, and 22% earn less than $10 per hour. Here at UCSC, 93% of the 550 Service Workers earn less than the living wage for Santa Cruz County of $16.88 as determined by the California Budget Project. And like many UC workers, they are laid off during holiday and summer breaks.

Flyer

coverage from 5/20/04: UC Workers Hold Statewide Marches

Service Workers do not have a chance to advance because UC does not have a policy of hiring from within when qualified staff is available. Although UC is one of the premier higher education institutions in the world, there is a surprising lack of education and training offered to Service Workers.

For more information, please contact Local 3299 AFSCME at 831-425-4822 or malper (at) afscme3299.org

 
 


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Comments

Sorry, this is NOT a living wage issue

As a former University of California employee who did see many situations where UC employees were underpaid, I usually side with the UC unions. Nevertheless, the "living wage" argument in Max's post is faulty.

Claiming that one's wage is below the "living wage" has become a knee-jerk reaction. It's important to compare apples to apples. This means selecting the right living wage benchmark, knowing how it was calculated, and knowing how much one really earns (including amounts that never show up in one's paycheck).

The living wage is $13.36 per hour ($27,800 per year) for one adult in Santa Cruz County, according to the California Budget Project (CBP). Behind this is a very interesting budget.

When we remove the car from the CBP's "basic" budget, the living wage drops to $11.68 per hour ($24,300 per year). All UCSC employees are entitled to a free Metro bus pass, valid throughout Santa Cruz County. The UCSC "corridor" has the highest level of transit service in the county, with fifteen buses per hour during the day and service as late as 2 AM.

When we factor in UC's health insurance program, the living wage drops to $10.86 per hour ($22,600 per year). A UC employee who works at least 17.5 hours a week and whose assignment will last at least 6 months has a choice of several excellent health insurance plans. For HMO coverage, UC pays almost the entire premium, and the copayments are low. In our revised budget, we include the employee's share of the premium for the more expensive of the two HMOs available at UCSC, plus copayments for 12 prescriptions and 8-10 office visits or one surgery per year.

When we recalculate the Social Security tax, Medicare tax, federal income tax, and state income tax, the living wage for a UCSC employee drops to $9.68 per hour ($20,100 per year).

According to Appendix A of the contract, there is only one job category in the entire bargaining unit with a wage lower than that: seasonal farmworker. Wages for the other job categories are higher -- most by several dollars an hour. While there may be good reasons to grant higher wages to the AFSCME workers, the "living wage" argument isn't one of them. These workers already earn a living wage.

Side note to the protesters: While I find your protests for employees with a median wage of $12 per hour plus health, pension and a modicum of job security truly heart-warming, someone in my own family had to accept a $6.75 per hour job with no benefits and no security. None of you ever bothered to visit his work site. I suppose it's not as much fun to leave the campus, come down the hill, and fight for the minimum wage set. If any bitterness comes through in this paragraph, it is intentional.

Main References:

1. "Making Ends Meet", California Budget Project, 2003

2. "Bus Pass Information", University of California, Santa Cruz Transportation and Parking Services, n.d.

3. "Am I eligible for medical insurance?", University of California Human Resources and Benefits, 2004

4. "Medical Plan Chooser", University of California Human Resources and Benefits, 2004

5. [2003 federal income tax tables], Internal Revenue Service, 2003

6. [2003 state income tax tables], California Franchise Tax Board, 2003

7. [AFSCME Service Unit contract], University of California Human Resources and Benefits, 2002

8. "Living Wage Rate Annual Prescription", City of Santa Cruz Department of Finance/Purchasing, 2004

Technical Notes:

On cars... I have lived car-free in Toronto, Pittsburgh, Pleasanton, Berkeley, San Francisco, and now Santa Cruz. I am familiar with all of the public transit agencies in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and can say with confidence that ours in Santa Cruz offers a level of service that does make it possible to live without a car. What's more, the City of Santa Cruz and the City of Watsonville have opened hundreds of modern, accessible, affordable apartments within steps of Metro Center and the Watsonville Transit Center. I know, because I live in such a building.

On other "living wage" benchmarks... The living wage ordinance for the City of Santa Cruz today specifies $11.77 per hour, but requires a much less generous health insurance program, no bus pass, no holiday pay, less vacation pay, no pension, etc. In other words, an employee subject to the City's living wage ordinance spends more out-of-pocket. Were we to account for the differences, we would see that my hypothetical living wage for UCSC employees -- because it comes with generous benefits -- is actually higher than the living wage specified in the City ordinance.
 

why include a bus pass?

...statements such as this

' ...can say with confidence that ours in Santa Cruz offers a level of service that does make it possible to live without a car.'

and to ...er... imply that a free bus pass is a valid job perk in lieu of wages makes no sense.
 

Bus pass saves $290 a month, from CBP car ownership budget

Regarding levels of transit service, my criteria for being able to live without a car are having service seven days a week until midnight, with half-hour wait times or better, to residential, shopping, medical, civic, recreation and employment centers. You'll find that "lifeline" transit studies in the Bay Area apply similar criteria. Santa Cruz Metro far exceeds these criteria. Some people can't fathom life without a car. In a community like ours, owning a car is a discretionary economic choice. It's a stupid choice for people at any income level, and a really stupid choice for people with low incomes who work for an employer that offers free bus passes and has 15-trip-per-hour bus service. Remember that we are talking about a "living wage" scenario.

Regarding the value of a bus pass, I don't see how you can factor in the cost of one form of transportation (the car) but not the value of another form (the bus). The CBP budget had $290 per month for car ownership. I simply zeroed that out. The free bus pas is indeed a "valid job perk". By itself it would be worth $50 a month, $600 a year. The state and federal governments even consider it a valid perk, on par with the "free" parking that many employers (not UCSC, thankfully) provide. Like free parking, the bus pass garners a tax deduction for employers (at UC, it's just a payroll tax exemption, not a corporate income tax deduction, since there is no corporate income tax) and for employees (who do not pay income tax on the value of the pass). You can't assign a cost/value to one mode of transportation while insisting that other modes have no cost/value. Economists talk in terms of avoided cost, and here, the bus pass saves the employee $290 in car ownership costs (as estimated by the CBP). That's real money.
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

"and a really stupid choice for people with low incomes who work for an employer that offers free bus passes and has 15-trip-per-hour bus service"

pay them the money and let those individuals (who could be our mothers, daughters, sisters etc walking from the bus to wherever, whenever) decide for themselves how to spend their wages.

I for one don't think that these people are demanding wages just to get attention.


I'm looking at a book called How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff, Irving Geis...food for thought.
 

Cash, benefits and choice

"fromo", I never suggested that the AFSCME workers were "demanding wages just to get attention." I do want them to be frank in their request for a discretionary raise. I also want them to find valid economic arguments (there are some) that might help them win.

Most importantly, I want the compassionate public to spend less time defending workers whose basic needs are already being met and more time defending workers who are barely surviving. I don't have any energy left to lend to the $12 copy machine operators at UCSC or the $27 Sunday clerks at Safeway, when someone in my own family has had to struggle with $6.75. I'm tired of UCSC protesters who latch on to fashionable causes but ignore real, immediate, hard struggles.

I am curious about the book you mentioned and will look it up. Caution: if you decide that you don't like statistics, you will have to discard the idea of a living wage. The living wage isn't for me, for you, or for any individual, but for an entire group of people. Without statistics it becomes impossible to calculate a living wage for a group of workers.

I quite agree with your suggestion that UCSC distribute the money it spends on "free" public transit passes to employees so that they themselves can decide how to spend it. I feel the same way about health insurance* (the subject of a recent discussion here on IndyMedia), pension contributions, and all other employee benefits.** UCSC already uses this strategy with benefits like parking and gym membership: there is no free parking and no free gym access for UCSC employees. Employees can choose to purchase these services with their wages -- or not.


Swapping benefits for cash does not change what goes into the living wage, i.e., the reasonable minimum cost of living in Santa Cruz County. That reasonable minimum does not include owning a car.

* If you prefer cash in lieu of benefits, you probably voted no on Proposition 72, the proposition that would have required employers to pay employees partly with cash and partly with health insurance.

** As much as I like the idea, it is important to point out that swapping benefits for cash does not always produce the desired result. For example, UCSC pays Metro about 95 cents each time a UCSC employee boards a Metro bus. Those charges amount to far less than the cost of buying a $50 monthly pass for every UCSC employee. Health insurance is similar. If young, healthy employees opt out and receive cash credit (as they may do at certain employers, though not UC), only unhealthy employees are left in the insurance pool, and the per-person premium rises.
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

interesting report:

berkeleysbetrayal.org/bbetrayal.pdf

all struggling workers deserve support.

statistics in themselves are not bad but they can be used to make points that are not necessarily true.
 

Berkeley's Betrayal report

Thanks for the link, fromo. I enjoyed reading the report. Sadly, it uses the same faulty "living wage" argument -- with additional errors and distortions thrown in.

The report emphasizes anecdotal rather than factual evidence. Of 30 or so pages' worth of core content, 25 are devoted to anecdotes from workers and only 5 to facts, all in summary form. While it is important to catologue the experiences of workers, personal stories are not a substitute for group-level economic data.

Among the specific errors and distortions:

- Driving is portrayed as necessary. This seems to be a favorite among UC unions. AC Transit, the third-largest bus system in California, provides comprehensive, frequent, and fast service to Cal -- including 24-hour service. The service area extends from Downtown San Francisco (express service over the Bay Bridge to Cal's doorstep) to Richmond in the north and Milpitas in the south. Cal employees DO NOT need cars or parking passes.

- The report pleads for employee transit passes. In fact, every Cal student gets a "free" (paid for by student fees) systemwide AC Transit pass, and non-student employees can purchase one for $20 a month. The pass is actually worth $100.

- The report uses a $16.88 living wage figure. The California Budget Project's living wage figure for one adult in Alameda County is $13.36.

- The report mentions UC's health insurance program but ignores the program's financial impact. The CBP living wage figure assumes that the employee pays most of her own health insurance premium. UC employees are in the opposite situation. A Cal employee contributes just $4 toward the $248 monthly HMO premium.

- The report does not mention UCRS, UC's pension program. This is a very valuable part of UC's compensation package.

- The report compares UC and private-sector wages, without correcting for UC's more generous health, transportation, retirement, holiday, vacation, and other benefit programs. The underlying Compensation Advisory Committe (CAC) report covered wages only. It completely ignored UC's benefit program. For service workers, who simply cannnot get such generous benefits in the private sector, this was a serious omission.

- The Consumer Price Index (CPI) figures in the report do not match official Bureau of Labor Statistics data. If we look at the first half, urban wage earners and clerical workers, San Francisco - Oakland - San Jose area, all items less medical care [which is essentially employer-paid at UC] CPI figures for 2001 and 2004, we see that the report exaggerates inflation by 39%. The cost of living rose 5% in total during those three years, not 6.95% as claimed. Since no reference is given, we can't tell whether the writers used the wrong data series, copied a value from a newspaper article, etc.

- Worst of all, the report implies that executive raises somehow affect the wages of line employees. There is one chancellor at UC Berkeley. Splitting his $75,000 raise among Cal's 13,823 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions would give each employee a whopping 0.26-cent (yes, that's 2.6 tenths of a cent) hourly raise. A good chancellor is worth his or her weight in gold, for the donations and state, federal, and private grants that he or she can muster.

It amazes me that this kind of propaganda can pass for a research report. Interestingly, the graduate students who wrote it are in sociology, not economics.
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

"Driving is portrayed as necessary"
we've already been through this.

"every Cal student gets a "free" (paid for by student fees)"
this is an oxymoron

"The California Budget Project's living wage figure for one adult in Alameda County is $13.36."
two thirds of the working poor have children

"It amazes me that this kind of propaganda can pass for a research report. Interestingly, the graduate students who wrote it are in sociology"
I believe it IS a sociological report and this is why the focus is on the people behind the numbers.

If the numbers are so great why are the employees working 2-3 jobs to get by?
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

> two thirds of the working poor have children

I was waiting for that. Children = optional. Again, we are talking about the employee's basic life needs.

> If the numbers are so great why are the employees working 2-3 jobs to get by?

To cover their car payments, perhaps. (I couldn't resist. I am trying to inject some humor, not to discredit your comments, which I appreciate because they prompt me to think more.) In all seriousness, one cannot extrapolate from a handful of anecdotes to thousands of UC Berkeley employees.

> I believe it IS a sociological report and this is why the focus is on the people behind the numbers.

Sociologists should still commit themselves to fair and accurate reporting. The factual errors in the report are significant. The sociologists could have taken a few moments to check some primary sources, such as basic UC Benefits documents.
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

"Children = optional. Again, we are talking about the employee's basic life needs."
an incomprehensible statement in that feeding one's children is a basic need.

" am trying to inject some humor"
lol humor is welcome and is a good thing!

even if you don't agree with the report it illustrates that economic strain for university workers is not an illusion.

"...someone in my own family had to accept a $6.75 per hour job with no benefits and no security. None of you ever bothered to visit his work site"
if you think it is wise to identify the workplace here then by all means...
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

There is some amazingly hostile propaganda in the first post.

"A UC employee who works at least 17.5 hours a week and whose assignment will last at least 6 months has a choice of several excellent health insurance plans. For HMO coverage, UC pays almost the entire premium, and the copayments are low. In our revised budget, we include the employee's share of the premium for the more expensive of the two HMOs available at UCSC, plus copayments for 12 prescriptions and 8-10 office visits or one surgery per year."

As a faculty member, I assume the health care plan I get is at least as good as that provided to the service workers. There are a choice between exactly TWO HMOs. These are the only games in town. Both have received low ratings by consumer reports. Our of pocket expenses are quite significant. No one in my family has had any significant or chronic illnesses, Colleagues who do face some pretty astronomical expenses coupled with rather low-quality health care that forces them to go off the plan for care at Stanford or UCSF. The poster obviously is quite ill-informed.

The whole bit about children or family being optional is total bullshit too. Since when do we make employment contingent upon not having a family? We only allow rich people to have families in Santa Cruz? Maybe you ought to stick with the American Nazi Party.

A family of 4 in Santa Cruz that makes less than $62,000 per year qualifies for housing assistance:

www.hacosantacruz.org/statistics/incomelimits.html

The point is that if you want to run a university where no one but top administrators earn enough to live comfortably, you are going to have a lot of unhappy employees catering to a bunch of trustifarians driving around in their BMW SUVs. Santa Cruz is one of the most unaffordable cities in North America. At some point we need to take a stand if it is going to survive as anything other than a playground for the rich and their dealers.
 

A student's perspective

I've just read through everyone's comments to the posting of UCSC worker's (and student's) struggle.

Some thoughts:

- Paul, I appreciate your attempts to break down the statistics, having people that look into things is always helpful. I'd ask us to zoom out and look at the big picture for a second, so we can talk about the importance of the worker/student struggle.

- The reason I say "worker/student" rather than just "worker" is because our two struggles are linked. Contrary to popular belief, the workers aren't just fighting for increased wages, they're fighting for better service for students. When the university builds more buildings on campus, as they have been doing rapidly, they are not hiring extra workers to clean those buildings. That means that not only are the workers expected to do more, but the quality of the work goes down. As one who has experienced dorm life - I can tell you that having our buildings clean is extremely important to our health. Bacteria and diseases spread like crazy in dorm buildings, and if we don't have enough workers spending time to ensure that quality service is given, students will get sick. I'm still trying to get rid of the ringworm that I got from the dorms.

- The workers are also fighting for what they call 'fairness not favoritism', meaning that they get advancements based on how long they've worked, rather than who the boss likes the best. Is that so wrong?

- The workers should also be able to advance in their workplace. No one should be stuck in a dead end job - having advancement opportunities is part of the 'American Dream' that so many speak of fondly. Who are we to deny this to our workers?

- As far as a living wage is concerned, let's talk big picture again:

+ Workers have families. It's a human right to be able to raise a family. When there are little kids going to school, playing soccer on the weekends, wanting rides over to friends houses, families may have to have cars. Families have a lot of difficulty living in apartments, should they not deserve to live at the same standards of others? I've heard many stories of workers bringing home 1300 a month, and spending 1200 a month on rent for their cramped living space. With babies who need milk, diapers, kids who need food and school books, are we supposed to expect that to come out of $100 bucks?

- When issues of justice and equality are raised - when issues of supporting those in our community whose job is to care for the lives of others, come about, I can tell you that there will always be students on their side.

+ That means your family member who makes minimum wage. Just tell us when they're going to have an action or how they need support, and we'll be there.

+ This isn't about saying we shouldn't give our support to some, because others don't get it, it's about saying that we should give our support for all, so when we need help, they'll be for us too.

Our community is united.
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

Listen, AFSCME isn't asking a wage increase as such. Their demands consist of 1. A chance to advance 2. Fairness not Favorititm 3. Quality Service (i.e. don't increase the students/building and therefore the workload, without hiering more people. These are their basic demands. Whether or not these workers can get by alright on their wages is just one of the issues at hand. And it is atrocious how much the high administration people make. Former Chancellor Greenwood got a $250,000 christmas bonus this year. There is a problem here. Its called capitalism.
 

Re: Low-wage Service Workers at UCSC Need Your Support to Win a Fair Contract!

The argument that attempts to discredit organizing by saying that people are worse off elsewhere makes no sense. Yeah, people are making the minimum wage (or less) elsewhere in Santa Cruz. You know, slavery also still exists around the world. Does that mean that students and workers at UCSC shouldn't organize to improve conditions at the university? No. It's a question of strategy, and it boils down to the fact that there's the basic problem that we can't fight every injustice at all times. Or maybe we could, but that would require a complete reorientation of organizing toward calls for social revolution.

Re: Strategy, students and workers at UCSC can have a very direct impact on UC administrators, thus making it much more likely to succeed. Also, we need to make sure existing unions aren't weekend, thereby weakening worker's rights and power more generally. So if AFSCME, CUE or any other campus union seeks solidarity, why not?
It's important also to remember that relationships being created between workers and students and the organizing experience being gained in this fight can prove invaluable in helping to fight other injustices, such as for a living wage for all workers in Santa Cruz. Crush the university or grocery worker unions, for example, and there's one less force for social change.

When you're active against the Israeli occupation Palestine, people shout, what about the Sudan! Or, they treat people like shit in Egypt too! Just b/c people focus on one area, doesn't mean they don't also condemn other injustices, and that they wouldn't be ready to protest them.
 

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