After months of negotiations over 2003-04 wages, benefits and parking rates for clerical employees, the University of California decided to implement a final contract proposal, despite its rejection by the Coalition of Union Employees (CUE).

The University informed CUE of its decision last Thursday, March 24, despite CUE’s objections. The contract, put forth March 3, includes a 10 percent wage increase for police dispatchers at UC Irvine and a 2 percent wage increase for clerical workers in the Nutrition Services Dept. at the UC San Diego Medical Center, a University press release said. UCSB staffers, who are also CUE members, will not receive any additional benefits under UC’s newly implemented contract.

CUE has been fighting for across-the-board wage increases for UC clerical workers since the summer of 2004. CUE President Mary Higgins said CUE is rejecting the contract proposal because it does not include the 90 percent equity wage increase recommended by a fact-finding report officially released Feb. 17.

The fact-finding report was written by Gerald R. McKay, who was appointed by the state as a neutral analyst, to study wage negotiations between CUE and the UC in November after the two parties became deadlocked over the 2003-04 wages of UC clerical workers.

Higgins said the union is outraged by the University’s decision to go through with the plan over CUE’s objections.

“We saw it as an insult,” she said. “They had told us many times in bargaining they have the money and that it’s a matter of allocation, but I guess we’re just not a priority. It feels like they’re putting us in a position where there is no other option but to strike.”

Although Higgins said there are no current plans for CUE to go on strike, she said the option is still a possibility, as CUE continues to fight the University’s final contract proposal.

UC spokesman Noel Van Nyhuissaid the results of the fact-finding report are nonbinding and the University can implement any proposal it chooses.

“All we can do is implement the offer and move forward,” Van Nyhuis said. “We’ve done all we can.”

Howard Pripas, UC executive director of labor relations, said in a press release that the final contract proposal was the best the University could offer.

“While the university would have preferred a mutual agreement with the union, we’ve compromised as much as resources allow, and it’s now time to focus on current negotiations for a new contract,” Pripas said.

Van Nyhuis said the negotiation process between the University and CUE was especially difficult because the union did not maintain fair bargaining practices. He said CUE released information from the fact-finding reports to the media during the 10-day confidentiality period that took place between Feb. 7 and Feb 17. According to a University press release, the purpose of the confidentiality period was to allow both parties to absorb all of the information uncovered in the fact-finding report before the report was to be released to the public.

As a result of the leak, Van Nyhuis said the University filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), claiming CUE violated the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. CUE maintains they had nothing to do with the leak to The Recorder, a Bay Area-based newspaper, Higgins said.

“To date, we don’t know who it was,” Higgins said. “The reporter said it was not CUE. We’re doing an internal investigation. So far, no one’s come forward. If [a CUE member] did it, it was probably innocent. Our response is due [April 11].”

She also said CUE was not worried about the complaint filed with PERB.

“What can they say but ‘Don’t do it again?'” Higgins said. “It’s just a tempest in the teapot. It’s a tactic from the UC to turn attention away from the fact-finding report.”

Higgins said the University was not entirely fair in their negotiations with CUE either, so CUE has also lodged a complaint with PERB. She said the University gave two extra paid vacation days to non-union members and told CUE negotiators that union members could have the same offer only if CUE agreed to accept a zero salary increase for the 2003-04 wages.

“They were trying to avoid the fact-finding report,” Higgins said.

Van Nyhuis said the University hopes to increase wages for the 2004-05 year with the help of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s new compact proposal. The governor’s proposal calls for the addition of $97.5 million in state general funds for UC operations and a 1.5 percent general increase in salary, a University press release said.

The press release includes the governor’s request for state legislators to approve a 1.5 percent merit-based salary increase and additional funds to help cover employee health benefits. Van Nyhuis said the University is in favor of the legislation.

“We’re in support of it and we hope legislators realize its value,” he said. “That would be our source system wide.”

CUE is currently in negotiations for an improved contract for the 2004-05 fiscal year, Higgins said.