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Berkeleyan

Berkeleyan

 April 14, 2005: Chancellor Birgeneau tells campus workers participating in a one-day strike against the UC system that he supports their fight for better salaries. Last week Birgeneau announced that he was increased the minimum wage for the campus's lowest-paid career employees by up to 20 percent. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Minimum wage for certain low-paid employees is raised to $11.25
Those paid as little as $9.39 will receive increase retroactive to April 1. Long in the planning, the decision was contingent on settlement of contract disputes with campus unions

| 27 April 2006

A decision by Chancellor Birgeneau to authorize salary increases for some of the campus's lowest-paid workers was announced last week. About 180 career and limited employees in five control units are affected by the decision, which is effective April 1 and will likely be reflected in June paychecks.

Birgeneau: '...the right thing to do at this time...'
This memo from the chancellor, announcing an increase in the "baseline wage" for Berkeley's lowest-paid career employees, was sent to senior campus administrators on Thursday, April 20.

The decision raises the "baseline wage" for these employees to $11.25 per hour, an increase of up to 20 percent for those at the very bottom of the campus pay scale.

Sympathy for food-service workers, janitors, and others whose wages keep them at or near the federal poverty level has been growing among students, faculty, staff, and administrators since the publication in 2004 of Berkeley's Betrayal. A sociological study of 60-plus campus workers, it gave voice to their complaints about low wages, difficult parking, insufficient staffing (and related overwork), and various health and safety issues. The study was cited by several campus sources this week - including the chancellor - as among the factors that influenced this recent decision.

"I read Berkeley's Betrayal shortly after I arrived here [in fall 2004]," says Birgeneau, "and it had an impact on me - as did conversations I had with union leaders, undergraduates, and the Academic Senate. All these parties emphasized the importance of this issue to them, and that impressed me."

Immediate action was not taken, however, in part because negotiations with campus unions were ongoing at the systemwide level. As those contracts have been settled, campus officials say, the path toward making this change in individuals' compensation levels has been cleared.

"We didn't want to interfere" in those negotiations, says Birgeneau, who added that "the CUE signing really controlled the timing." UC's settlement with the Coalition of University Employees was announced on Feb. 16; the university had previously reached agreement with the two other unions whose members will participate in this salary adjustment, the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). By far the largest number of Berkeley employees affected by last week's decision are represented by AFSCME.

An open-ended review

More than a year ago, while the systemwide union negotiations were still underway, Birgeneau asked Steve Lustig, then acting vice chancellor for Business and Administrative Services, to "work through the finances of what it would take" to address the wage issue for at least some of the campus's most underpaid workers. "I wanted him to identify particular groups, cost out various scenarios, and identify what the budget consequences would be and what we could afford," says Birgeneau.

'It is time to turn the tide...'
Berkeley's Betrayal, produced by a group of sociology grad students in 2004, examined wages, working conditions, and other aspects of employment for low-paid campus workers. By building awareness of these issues it helped catalyze the process that produced last week's wage increase.

The report can be read online here and is the source of the excerpts that follow. Dollar figures and other statistics that may have changed somewhat since publication are not revised here.

We expect a public institution dedicated to education to teach by example, and in its capacity as an employer that means paying a fair wage sufficient to support a worker and his or her family in dignity. . . . Far from setting an example, the university's pay is generally lower than the pay of [comparable] institutions in both the private and public sectors. These inadequate wages have forced many employees to forego comfortable housing, physical and emotional health, personal goals and aspirations, and family well-being and integrity. . . .

Using a realistic but bare-minimum formula that takes into account the cost of child-care, health care, transportation, food, housing, and taxes, the California Budget Project recently calculated that in 2003 a single parent supporting two children needed to earn a minimum of $29.80 per hour to cover basic household expenses (not including education, entertainment and savings). For a family of four with two working parents, both would need to earn $16.88 per hour in order to achieve a modest standard of living.

Using 2004 University wage data, we calculated that over 1,700 University workers are making less than the living wage of $16.88 per hour. These include nearly 90 percent of all service workers and nearly 40 percent of all clerical workers. . . .

It is time to turn the tide. . . . Principles can only be eroded for so long before they become evidently empty shells, losing their meaning and their power to bind together and motivate. As students and employees, we call on incoming Chancellor Birgeneau and on other leaders to step to the plate and make UC Berkeley a truly principled community: one which includes those who clean the classrooms, record the grades, prepare the food, and maintain the grounds. . . .

Both Birgeneau and Lustig (now associate vice chancellor for health and human services) say that the goal from the outset was not specifically to raise the compensation of the lowest-paid employees identified in Berkeley's Betrayal. Birgeneau told the Berkeleyan that it was a more open-ended process designed to highlight a range of options. However, says Lustig, one specific objective was to "bring up the baseline" for some number of low-paid employees "who were choosing to make their careers at Berkeley."

In addition to reviewing existing and pending union contracts to see what campus-level action might be permissible, Lustig looked at local wage comparisons from at least two perspectives in preparing his report to the chancellor. One data set embraced the Bay Area generally, while the second looked at local jurisdictions, he says. The city of Berkeley, for example, has a minimum-wage ordinance in effect that over the past year set the baseline pay rate at $11.04 an hour, up from 10.81. This played some role in the decision to increase the base wage to $11.25, rather than the $11 that had been recommended by both the campus Academic Senate and the authors of Berkeley's Betrayal.

Faculty support for an increase

The senate's involvement in this issue dates back as well to the issuance of Berkeley's Betrayal, says Calvin Moore, a professor of mathematics who chairs the Senate Committee on Academic Planning and Resource Allocation (CAPRA), which makes recommendations to the chancellor each year on budget priorities. In its April 2005 budget letter the committee suggested the $11 figure on the strength of an economic analysis it had conducted based on federal poverty numbers, adjusted for regional differences. The full campus senate endorsed the proposal after its approval by the divisional council, which in turn was influenced by conversations between senate members and both Lustig and David Moers, then the associate vice chancellor for human resources.

While the wage hike has been mandated by the campus, the responsibility of funding it falls to the control units, which in some cases find their options somewhat limited.

More than half of the affected employees - 96 of 183 - are in Student Affairs; of that number, 81 are food-service workers in Residential and Student Service Programs (RSSP). The challenge of paying for the wage increase falls to Harry LeGrande, the associate vice chancellor for RSSP, who estimates the budget impact for the coming fiscal year at $167,000. LeGrande says he has no desire to fund increases for one class of worker by laying off members of another class, but he's also questioning whether to go back to students whose dining and lodging rates have already been set for this year to ask for more money. Nonetheless, he insists, "We're not looking at layoffs"; the list of options under review includes reducing service levels (for example, having shorter meal periods at one or more dining facilities).

Campus unions have yet to react formally to last week's announcement. Debra Grabelle, an organizer and negotiator for AFSCME, told the Berkeleyan that the increase to $11.25 an hour "is not a livable wage rate; you still have to eat in a soup kitchen and collect cans at that wage, and that's unacceptable at a university as rich as UC." (An AFSCME flyer announcing the salary increase, and urging members to join in an informational campus picket line on Cal Day, cited an Economic Policy Institute estimate that pegged $18.51 as the minimum required to support a one-parent/one-child family in the Bay Area.)

Judy Shattuck of CUE, while noting that "we welcome anything that improves anyone's pay, especially at the bottom of the pay range," says of the new base wage that "we have to view it as just a start, a first step - for everyone, especially those at the bottom."

Employee pension contributions eyed warily

Both Grabelle and Shattuck expressed concern that this increase - as well as the ones secured by the recently approved systemwide contracts - will be offset by what is widely believed to be a pending decision by the UC Regents to re-institute employee contributions to the UC retirement program. Though they've been unspecific about what amount would come from the employee," says Shattuck, "it would have to be an awfully tiny amount not to have the effect of wiping out our last pay raise."

Both CAPRA, on the senate side, and the research performed by Lustig at the chancellor's request took account of comparable wage and benefit levels at other institutions (including the California State University system, often cited by the unions as offering its employees higher wages than does UC). But there's a danger in making "local comparisons as apples to apples," cautions Lustig. In the case of custodians, for example - a class of employee for which AFSCME is currently seeking equity adjustments - "the hourly rate at CSU is slightly higher, but they have to pay their pension contributions out of that hourly rate." Lustig says he's convinced that the increase announced last week "is a good salary for the job categories" affected.

"We're hoping this increase will not just address an obviously inequitable situation for these employees," he says, "but will help with both retention and attraction. We want to be the employer of choice, not just attracting people here, but keeping them here."