*In Thursday’s story, “UC Employees Rally to Obtain Better Wages,” Bill Shiebler’s name was misspelled. He was also misidentified as the UCSB assistant director of financial aid. He is actually the A.S. state affairs organizing director.
The Nexus regrets this error.*

About 40 University employees and students gathered in Storke Plaza on Wednesday at noon to show their support for the Coalition of University Employees’ (CUE) first rally of the year.

CUE, founded in 1995, held the rally in support of better working wages and conditions for University of California clerical employees. Jobs in the clerical unit include, but are not limited to, administrative assistants, clerks, library assistants, cashiers, public safety dispatchers and childcare teachers. CUE’s contract with the University expired Sept. 20.

CUE Santa Barbara Local Field Director and Organizer Ken Rivas said that the union contract is open for negotiation and that the University has already offered a deal. If CUE agrees to sign a contract that allows no wage increases for the next three to four years, the University will give the union two days paid leave in December, a value of $200.

Rivas said CUE would not accept the contract.

“We’re not giving all that up for two days,” he said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Melinda Gandara, bargaining representative for the UCSB local division of CUE, said she questioned whether the university could continue to sustain its current level of research, such as that by recent Nobel Prize laureate David Gross, in spite of its treatment of employees. Lower level employees play a crucial role in the success of the university, Gandara said, but rising housing costs in the area have made it difficult for these employees to subsist day to day.

“We learn our jobs, we are trained for our jobs and our jobs provide an instructional support that cannot be easily taken away or replicated overnight,” Gandara said to the crowd. “And yet, we are paid subsistence level wages. We can’t make it on our wages. What we’re are asking the University to do is to recognize that.”

Speakers from other campus unions and organizations followed Gandara’s speech.

Rodney Orr, President of University Professionals and Technical Educators (UPTE) expressed his support for Proposition 72, which would, by 2006, require California employers with over 200 employees to either provide health insurance for their employees or to contribute to a state fund allowing the state to provide the insurance. By 2007, the law would be applied to employers with over 50 employees.

“This will help to take the burden off of responsible employers, like UC,” Orr said to the crowd, “It will allow employees, many of them working full-time, to have access to insurance for the first time in their lives, so that their families can be covered and protected.”

Orr also said he supported Democratic State Assembly Candidate Pedro Nava because he believes Nava will support laborers and students.

“He’s willing to support workers and students, not the big business mindset,” Orr said. “He’s not a friend to big business who’s fighting to deny access to the American dream, and fighting against fair, equitable wages for a hard days work.”

Nick Tingle of the UC-American Federation of Teachers spoke about the hierarchy of educators at the University, and said he felt the wages for university workers were incongruent with the amount they work.

“We teach…twice as much as the Senate Faculty[[ok]],” Tingle said. “We generally teach eight classes, they generally teach…three, two, one. I wonder where our Nobel Laureate is today? I doubt he’s on campus; I doubt he’ll be on campus for some time. That’s how it works; the higher up you go, the less you teach. We also make half as much – that’s maybe generous – as the Senate Faculty members do.”

UCSB Assistant Director of Financial Aid Bill Shelor said that despite small student turnout, CUE has the support of the student body. He also encouraged students to be more vocal about supporting the coalition’s cause.

“This is all one fight,” Shelor said. “This is all one struggle, whether it’s students or employees. We’re all dealing with similar situations with student fees. Our student fees go up, yet we don’t get financial aid, [just as] the cost of living is going up and employees aren’t getting the money to live that life … The only way we are going to make a difference is if we stand together and tell the University that we’re not going to accept it.”

Stephanie Langthorpe, Pedro Nava’s campaign organizer, spoke for Nava, who was scheduled to attend but did not. She said she would deliver a list of concerns discussed at the rally to the assembly candidate.

The CUE rally also addressed the issue of injustice within the UC employment system, exemplified, Ganadra said, by a 2001 report entitled “Berkeley’s Betrayal,” written by a group of UC Berkeley grad students.

The report cited the alleged injustice through interviews and personal accounts from food service and custodial workers, lab technicians, administrative assistants, parking lot attendants and other low level UC Berkeley employees. The report also contained a forward written by New York Times opinion writer Barbara Ehrenreich, which summarizes the alleged abuses to UC employees.

“The [UC’s] managerial environment is in many ways hostile to employees, indifferent to their health and safety, punitive to those who are injured on the job and sometimes overtly abusive in manner,” Ehrenreich wrote. “Equally shocking, for an educational institution, we found that there was little reward for, or encouragement of, employees’ efforts to expand their own education and skills.”

Gandara said that although the report only gives accounts of UC Berkeley employees, working conditions are no better at UCSB.

“What I am doing right now on the bargaining table is giving people ‘lived realities’ … stories of what it is like to be a dedicated worker at the University of California but simply [not able] to make it,” she said.