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UC Opposes Bill to Increase Wages for Contract Workers

Pending Bill Pits Labor Unions Against UC

Among the stack of bills sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk is one pitting labor unions against the University of California. Introduced by Senator Richard Lara, SB 376 would require UC — the third largest employer in the state — to pay contracted workers the same wages and benefits as existing university employees doing similar work.

The bill — supported by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Das Williams — would require UC to evaluate contract employees’ wages and benefits and ensure they does not undercut those of existing university employees.

AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) Local 3299 has been a strong supporter of the bill, arguing by denying their workers livable wages or benefits, UC is growing the state’s working poor. According to AFSCME Local 3299 — the UC’s largest labor union — UC has 45 such contracts in place, outsourcing work to thousands.

According to analysis of the bill, a UC Berkeley Labor Center study found temporary workers in 2010 were slightly younger, more likely to be women, less likely to be white, and less likely to have a high school diploma than the average non-temporary worker. The union argues these employees do the same job for less pay and more uncertainty. Contingent worker Irene Su, who worked at the medical center in UCSF, said in a press release contractors retained for years by UC will fire employees for being sick, speaking out against working conditions, and questioning hazardous work assignments.

But the UC Office of the President argues the legislation unfairly targets the UC system, and does not place the same requirements on the California Community College or the California State University systems. UC further argues its contract with the labor union already prohibits them from outsourcing services solely if the savings would result from paying contractors less wages and benefits for services typically done by university employees. If signed, UC argues, the bill would essentially end contract work — and the flexibility it provides for short-term projects — and cost the university system at least $36 million.

According to a UC spokesperson, it is not possible to pin down the exact number of contract employees at each campus because their contracts with service companies do not specify number of employees needed for a particular job.

Earlier this summer, UC President Janet Napolitano announced a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a three-year rollout for all workers, including contract ones. On October 1, the minimum wage for university employees will be $13 an hour.

The bill comes on the heels of an agreement between Brown and Napolitano that includes freezing tuition for two years while increasing funding annually by four percent.

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