After a year of negotiations, the UC finalized a revised pension plan and health care agreement for employees within the University Professional & Technical Employees-Communication Workers of America union, which covers over 12,000 employees.
Last week members consented to the plan’s provision of increased contributions to the pension plan for both union members and the university. The plan retroactively allocates 3.5 percent of wages to the UC Retirement Plan from July 1, 2011, jumping to 5 percent this July.
As the settlement was delayed by the UC, UPTE members will also receive $100 each to be used toward the agreed pension contributions.
Chief negotiator for UPTE Wendi Felson said the debate — albeit extensive — was worthwhile for members of the self-operated organization.
“I think workers have a right and a need for a union and collective bargaining,” Felson said. “With this contract that we just got, we actually expanded our ability to have a certain amount of control over our terms and conditions of work.”
As a result of the talks, three new bargaining committees will also be formed; the first will discuss retiree health care benefits, while the second and third will deliberate benefits for current employees and examine pensions.
Another change, a two-tier annuity plan, was proposed by the UC Regents. Berkeley UPTE President Tanya Smith said although the union is pleased with most accommodations, this structure fails to provide equitable compensation for all employees.
“The university has proposed for faculty two tiers of pension — one for employees who are older and have been here a long time, and one for newer employees, and that’s not fair,” Smith said. “The idea with pensions is that everybody should get them.”
The modifications also indirectly have a potentially negative impact on University of California students, according to Smith.
“It affects the students in that, if the employees who work at the university have terrible contracts, they become much less committed to the university,” Smith said. “Students benefit from having people who know what’s going on and know the university, so I think it’s unfortunate when there’s a lot of turnover in the staff.”
Smith worked as an editor for the UC Berkeley Archaeological Research Facility for 22 years before she was laid off in 2011.
UPTE member Michael Fehr, a computer resource specialist at one of UCLA’s libraries, said being part of the union helped him ascertain greater authority for his position.
“It gives me a voice [regarding] the decisions that the university makes over my salaries and my working conditions and my benefits,” Fehr said. “That’s something that I felt that I didn’t have when I was not part of a union.”
The contract expires in 2013, at which point another set of negotiations will begin.