The Coalition of University Employees (CUE), which has fought the University of California for years over working conditions and pay, plans to head back in May to the bargaining table, just months after ratifying its first contract with the UC.

In December, CUE and the UC agreed to a contract extending until September, which provided wage increases based on an increased cost of living and merit pay to be paid retroactively. CUE members sought an 11-percent pay raise over the next two years for clerical workers, plus merit increases for those who earn them. The UC settled at 7.8 percent for workers.

"We were pleased to have reached an agreement," UC spokesman Brad Hayward said. "We thought it was fair for both sides."

UCSB CUE President Debbie Ceder said the UC’s unwillingness to grant the requested 11-percent pay raise is what compelled the union to push for a short contract.

"UC refused to meet our modest request of 11 percent over two years, so we refused to have a longer duration of this agreement. We want to go right back to the table to get more," Ceder said. "We deserve more than the 2 percent the UC wants to give. We need a living wage."

During the course of the pre-December negotiations, Ceder said the UC presented CUE members with a survey it had commissioned, showing clerical salaries to be, on average, 21 percent below market salaries for comparable jobs.

"When we found out how far below the market we were paid, we were outraged, and it started the rallies which went on every Friday to bring attention to our cause," Ceder said. "When we return to the table [in May], you can bet we’ll have that 21 percent in the forefront of our minds."

Until those wages are raised, Ceder said, the UC will not be able to compete with the outside job market.

"Many UC administrators felt that staff are a dime a dozen and easily replaceable, but the amazingly large number of open vacancies and poorly qualified applicants should be sending a message to UC saying they aren’t paying well enough to attract good employees," Ceder said. "The service UC provides suffers when the staff are under-qualified, overworked and demoralized. In addition, they lose valuable assets when people who have worked here 20 to 30 years start leaving, taking their vast accumulated knowledge with them."

Assistant Director of Staff Labor Relations Sharon Hayden said the UC has recently had to cope with increased job volatility and staff turnover.

"The University had some problems, not in all locations, with what we call ‘recruitment and retention’ the last few years as the job market has gotten really hot and people have had different choices of employers," she said. "We know with respect to qualified clerical workers, particularly the higher-level clericals with a lot of skill, that we were having a hard time keeping some of them in Los Angeles and San Diego and San Francisco where there was a lot of pressure from private employers."

CUE wants to change that with another negotiation, but it has not determined its demands for the second contract.

"We are now negotiating for our second contract for higher wages and for casuals, to make jobs more secure for people so they can get on a career ladder instead of being laid off from their job," CUE Vice President Joanne Murray said.

The UC has not taken a position on the terms of the new negotiation since its terms are premature. "We wouldn’t be in a position to speculate," Hayward said. "We negotiate in good faith with all of our unions, and we hope to achieve a fair and expeditious agreement."

Familiarity with bargaining procedures and publication of the state budget in August will help speed negotiations on the second contract, Hayden said. The UC could not agree to a certain percentage increase before knowing how much of the UC’s budget could be allocated for salary increases, Hayden said.

Ceder said the UC should rely on other sources of money to pay wages. "The University seems very reluctant to give a wage increase," Ceder said. "UC needs to look beyond the state-allocated funds. They have a lot of money about and beyond that comes from the state. Their annual financial statement showed a $19 billion reserve of unrestricted funds. They are willing to increase upper administrator and faculty salaries in order to remain competitive, but they don’t give the same consideration to their staff."

– Staff Writer Sarah Healy also contributed to this story.