Last Thursday-in light of a new report by the Center for Labor & Community Research addressing the unlivable wages of University of California service employees-teachers, students, union representatives and dozens of workers gathered outside Cheadle Hall for a press conference to discuss contents of the report and inspire change. The report, entitled “Failing California Communities,” contains a cohesive collection of data addressing how such low wages not only devastate families, but strain the local economy as well. Through economic impact analysis, the report found that increasing municipal worker wages would result in a “multiplier effect,” benefiting the economy tremendously. It would give the state of California $147 million more spending on local goods and services, $23 million additional local business earnings, and $9 million in increased state and local tax revenue, in addition to nearly 900 new jobs throughout California.
American Federal State County Municipal Employee union (AFSCME) member and campaign organizer Julian Posadas said that the workers’ wages are inexcusably deficient, holding 20,000 service workers, clerical workers, and technical workers-the majority of whom are women, immigrants, and minorities-and their families at the poverty line. “Workers’ wages lag by 26 percent; they earn $2-$3 less per hour [than other workers in Santa Barbara],” said Posadas. “They work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet.” Posadas said that these conditions were unique to UC workers, stating that others with similar jobs outside the University system earn 25 percent more. Because the cost of living is extraordinarily high in Santa Barbara, Posadas said many workers are forced to commute and live in low income neighborhoods in Goleta, though he said that many residents live as far away as Thousand Oaks.
Councilmember Das Williams highlighted the issue of traffic in his speech at the press conference. “Santa Barbara has some of the most expensive housing in the state and the lowest working categories,” said Williams. “The less you pay workers, the more traffic you will see on Santa Barbara roads.” Williams also discussed the atrocious side effects of the low wages. “I have heard the struggles workers have at UCSB: Youth violence has a lot to do with the economic plight of their parents. Every regent and president of the UC has a responsibility to do due diligences. The good the UCs are doing is poisoned if it’s done on the backs of its workers.”
Associated Student’s External VP of Statewide Affairs Christine Byon expressed her dissatisfaction with the UC’s unfair funding practices. “Students [stand] in solidarity with you; we know that we are both being screwed by the UC system,” said Byon. “As a student, I’m ashamed of UC. Raising tuition makes [school] not available for minorities and the disadvantaged; it’s becoming elitist. It is so insulting. We want the UCOP, regents, and the fifth floor of Cheadle Hall to know [that] we are not responsible for the deficit at the state capital.”
Associate Vice Chancellor Paul Desruisseaux said that UCSB recognizes this issue, but unfortunately can’t do anything about it until the entire University of California proposes a plan to increase wages. “We are aware that there are certain employees whose job and job titles lag the local labor market,” said Desruisseaux. “We’ve done months of study to come up with a plan, [but] we can’t unilaterally [make change]:until there is a contract between the union and AFSCME.”
According to Labor and employee communications specialist Nicole Savickas, the State of California funds service employee wages, while patient care employees at the UC’s five hospitals are paid for directly by the medical center. Currently, both types of workers have engaged in negotiations with the University of California to bargain for better wages. However, the state is currently suffering a budget crisis, forcing the UC to divide its state funding between its employee categories. “When we were negotiating we did our best to add job titles that needed [a wage] increase the most,” said Savickas, “but with a budget crisis looming, we’re in a difficult place to pay for AFSCME workers and workers from other unions. Money we get from state has to be distributed in a fiscally responsible way.”
However, UCSB Professor of Sociology William Robinson said in his speech on Thursday that the budget cut was no excuse for such low wages. “Let us be clear about a larger issue that is [key]: the UC budget is cut back, [but] regents and administrators shouldn’t use this as an excuse for horrendously low wages,” he said. “Our responsibility as University of California faculty is to demand a shift in UC priorities to its workers who never see the fruits of this UC system.” However, Savikas said that the UCOP and regents have made continuous efforts, regardless of the budget crisis, to increase service worker wages. “In October of last year, we talked with AFSCME and put a wage increase for employees earning under $40,000 a year,” said Savikas. “We continue to make efforts where we can to increase salaries for a number of employee groups.”
Savickas continued that during a previous meeting on January 30, the UC offered $2.8 million to extend their contract with AFSCME over worker wages. However, according to Posadas, the offer was neither sufficient nor equal, citing that of the 56 categories of employees at the University of California, the offer only applied to 25.
UC laborer, AFSCME Member, and bargaining team representative Robert Pinto said the offer the UC made was not only lacking, but also insulting. “For me and my co-workers, [the report] is old news,” he said. “On the bargaining team, we have workers testify about their stories and lives and standard of living. It’s sad. UC’s response is that they ignore it. They told us that although the funds are there, it’s fiscally irresponsible for them to pay their workers. One of the most profitable entities in the whole county, and they can’t pay their workers what others in the area pay? They gave chancellors 40 percent raises; we get three percent over three years. They see us as a resource; they don’t see us as human beings. They should have the highest morals.”
Posadas said this report is the first of its kind, but certainly not the last. He regarded it as a testament to change. “The report shows that people can make change,” he said. “This is a grassroots step for something solid in the future.”