University of California research and technical workers will strike today at campuses throughout the UC system, including UCSB, to protest what union leaders claim are unfair wages and negotiation practices.

Representatives of the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union have alleged that the UC has not met the union’s demands and continues to use illegal tactics in its negotiations. Bob Stevenson, president of the Santa Barbara UPTE chapter, said UCSB union members will strike on campus at the east gate, by Highway 217, and the west gate, by El Colegio Road, from 6 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Members will also rally in the Arbor and march to Cheadle Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. before resuming their strike at the east gate from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., he said.

UC spokesman Noel Van Nyhuis said the University believes the strike is unlawful because it is taking place during the contract negotiation process. He said employees who fail to report to work today without a documented excuse will not be paid for the day and may be subjected to further discipline.

Today’s strike comes on the heels of a revised contract proposal from the UC that was offered to UPTE last Friday. In the contract, all union members would receive a three percent wage increase each year for two years and a four percent increase in the third year. The UC also offered technical workers a $180 bonus and research support staff a $210 bonus. Stevenson said the amount offered was not an adequate living wage for UPTE members statewide, and especially not for those living in the UCSB community.

“The strike is important for the wages of Santa Barbara,” Stevenson said. “We have the highest cost of living [of any UC community].”

However, Nyhuis said the proposal was consistent with the California governor’s budget compact. The University can only pay employees what it has been allocated by the state, he said.

Instead of the proposed three-step process for wage increases, UPTE Systemwide Director Dominic Chan said the union wants its members’ salaries to increase by one or two percent for every year they are employed by the University, so those who remain with the University the longest receive the most pay.

Chan said offering UC employees this incentive would keep them from quitting to find better paying jobs. He said UPTE employees make an average of $35,000 to $45,000 a year, whereas their private sector counterparts make anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 a year. The disparity between the wages causes about one-third of UPTE employees to leave the UC every year, he said.

“It’s no wonder our folks are leaving,” Chan said. “The UC’s become a revolving training door for researchers to go to the private sectors.”

When experienced employees leave the UC because of low wages, university research – including medical research – is slowed considerably, Chan said. Continually introducing new employees into a research laboratory wastes time and resources, he said.

“Ultimately the people who get hurt are the patients – people who are looking for cures for cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer’s,” Chan said.

Besides offering comparably low wages, Chan said the University has acted in bad faith during the negotiation process. UPTE has filed approximately 15 complaints against the University with the Public Employment Relations Board, he said. One of these claims alleges that the UC refused to disclose information to UPTE regarding turnover savings, which are defined as the amount of money saved when a new employee fills a vacant position for a lower wage than the person who held it previously, Chan said. At this time, he said, a hearing date for the union’s claims against the University has not been set.

Chan said the money from turnover savings, which he has estimated to be about $2.5 million, could be used for UPTE wage increases, but he said the UC has not admitted that turnover savings exist.

Van Nyhuis said the union’s claims of unfair bargaining were unfounded.

“It is the University’s position that UPTE’s claims are nonsensical and without foundation,” he said. “[The Public Employment Relations Board] has not heard our side of the story yet. We’re very confident that they’ll side with the university on this issue.”