Following an impasse between the University of California and service workers, nearly 50 community members gathered at Cheadle Hall yesterday to demand higher wages.

The rally, sponsored by Chapter 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, focused on recent contract negotiations between the union and the UC, claiming that University service workers are paid significantly less than employees at other institutions.

Santa Barbara City Council Member Das Williams said that that the UC should increase wages in order to boost living standards.

“We live in a community that’s one of the most expensive housing markets in the state, but one of the lowest paid working categories in the state also,” Williams said. “I know there is a lot of good that the UCs can do, but ultimately the good that the UCs are doing is poisoned if it is done on the backs of the lowest paid workers.”

The Center for Labor and Community Research and the Partnership for Working Families released a report in January concerning the wages paid to UC employees, as well as the projected results of what would happen if the employees’ wages were raised.

The report, entitled, “Failing California’s Communities,” claims that the “UC fails low-income communities in California by paying wages that are significantly below what other colleges and hospitals in California pay for the same work.”

The study states that if the UC paid its service and health care workers market-rate wages, the state would benefit with $147 million more spending on local goods and services, nearly 900 new jobs, $9 million in increased state and local tax revenue and $23 million in additional local business earnings.

Sociology professor William Robinson said the University should follow the recommendations made in the report.

“Thousands of UC workers receive wages that are… insufficient to pay for food, rent, and other basic necessities,” Robinson said. “It is our responsibility as UC faculty and as members of the community and public at large to demand a shift in UC resources and priorities towards its low paid workers and communities who service the UC system, yet see none of the fruits of this world class university system.”

AFSCME has bargained with the UC about service worker wages since October 2007. On Jan. 30, AFSCME rejected the UC’s proposal to extend the existing contract between the two parties, as well as the accompanying proposal for an increase in UC worker wages that would have cost the UC $2.8 million.

As AFSCME allowed its contract with the UC to expire, the UC and AFSCME are now at an impasse. Deliberations on a new contract require a third party mediator appointed by the state. No agreements on wage changes between AFSCME and the UC can be enacted until a new contract is reached.

UCSB Service Worker Robert Pinto, who works with AFSCME to bargain with the UC Regents, said he was frustrated with the wages UC workers are paid.

“They’ve told us at the bargaining table that the issue is not [the UC’s] ability to pay … They’ve got unrestricted funds that could cover everything we need to bring us up to market wages and hopefully even more,” Pinto said. “But they’ve told us that even though the funds are there it would be fiscally irresponsible for them to pay their workers that amount of money. It’s an insult. We are their lowest priority.”

According to UC spokesperson Nicole Savickas, the mediation process is confidential and has no time limit.

Meanwhile, Associated Student Vice President of Statewide Affairs Christine Byon said she was disappointed with the UC reaction to the wage debates.

“As a student, I’m very ashamed of the UC,” Byon said. “We demand that the university stop exploiting the workers and give them the equitable wages deserved. It’s crucial that at events like this [rally] and Regent’s meetings that students show up. They need to know that the university should be accountable to us, and not vice versa.”