The men and women who operate and maintain the cogs in the machine of the University of California system – from electronics technicians to translator-interpreters – recently finalized their new terms of employment with the administration, but they still worry about the way money is distributed to employees.
This summer, the University Professional Technical Employees (UPTE) union wrapped up negotiations for wage increases that began in June 2000 and concluded after 14 months of bargaining. The contract, which will hold until September 2002, replaces its predecessor, which expired in September 2000.
Employees of the research and technical units within UPTE will receive a 4.49 percent across-the-board wage increase for the 2000-2001 year, to be paid retroactively, and 4.5 percent increase for the 2001-2002 year to be paid starting Oct. 1.
Although the contract includes a raise, the employee union bargainers say the distribution system can be unfair. The California State Legislature designates a certain percentage of state funds to go to the University of California. Based on this percentage, the University decides how much to raise employees’ salaries. Doug Brown, the chief bargainer for the UPTE tech unit, said the distribution system is unreliable because the University does not base pay on other sources of income, such as grants.
“The idea isn’t very sound because not even a majority of the funds come from the state,” he said.
Rodney Orr, a senior lab technician in the College of Engineering, said the University is not accountable to the Legislature and can distribute the money in arbitrary proportions to different levels of employees.
“There’s nothing that locks [the University administration] into fairly distributing to people at the university,” he said.
The University received less state funding this year because a large portion of the state budget was used to pay energy companies during the energy crisis, Brown said.
The UPTE also negotiated for compensation on safety equipment considered a “reasonable request.” Orr said individual departments used to determine what safety equipment to purchase such as steel-toed boots. Many machinists lift heavy objects on the job, Orr said, and the union fought for higher compensation after machinists requested, and were denied, steel-toed boots.
The UPTE also went over the old contract’s language to make sure the University will not deny workers safety equipment based on vague wording, Orr said.
The University nominates the team that negotiates with the unions. The bargaining unit is made up of human resource and operational personnel from different universities, which Director of Labor Relations Gayle Cieszkiewicz said helps bring specific perspectives to the bargaining table.
“It helps to understand how different campuses function, especially in terms of language,” she said. “We don’t want people promising something they can’t deliver.”
The new contract will also include a new form of grievance resolution. Previously, UPTE members with a grievance would go through a system of arbitration. A committee of two University representatives and two technical units now hear employee grievances.
The UPTE union was founded in 1990 and is made up of three units representing research and technical employees and health professionals. Orr said approximately 4,200 technical employees are members of UPTE; 220 are at UCSB.