Berdahl Fields Union Concerns at Noontime Staff Chat
By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Professional and clerical union members grilled Chancellor Berdahl with questions about pay increases, catastrophic leave and health benefits as he addressed staff Jan. 7 in Sibley Auditorium.
Berdahl began the noon-hour meeting with a brief overview of several important campus initiatives related to safety - seismic construction and emergency preparedness efforts, and crime prevention and public safety initiatives. Berdahl announced several new services, including improved lighting, additional police officers and the purchase of vans for transporting students and staff after dark.
He then fielded questions from the audience of more than 150 people. Most of the questions came from a flyer circulated by UPTE (University Professional and Technical Employees) before the meeting.
One of the inquiries concerned catastrophic leave, which allows employees to donate unused vacation time to coworkers in critical situations. Claiming that Berkeley has refused individual waivers, the union referred to an instance in which a technical employee was denied the right to donate vacations hours to a clerical staff person.
"To my knowledge, the campus has offered unions this option but they have refused to accept it unless it is included in contract negotiations currently in progress," said Berdahl.
After several staff, including representatives of CUE (Coalition of University Employees), disputed this assertion, Berdahl said he would consult with Human Resources to find ways to get the policy implemented for all. "I support catastrophic leave," he said, "and want to remove any obstacles to getting it in place."
Merit increases and pay structures were also discussed, with several staff asking what could be done to make policies more consistent and equitable.
"Why do we have to wait to receive merit and cost-of-living increases while our contract is being negotiated?" asked a staff member. "We're doing the work and we have the right to be compensated for it."
The chancellor answered that many of the issues being raised are under the purview of the University of California, not the Berkeley campus. "I can't award money without consent [from the unions and the presiden'ts office]," he said.
Emphasizing his concern, however, with human resource issues, Berdahl said he has asked Horace Mitchell, vice chancellor-business and administrative services, to organize an external review of the unit, which handles employment, pay, classification, benefits and employee development.
According to Mitchell, the review will be conducted Jan. 19 to 21 by a committee of academic and corporate representatives. Surveys will be sent to all staff for their input, he added.
Berdahl closed the session with a promise to take union concerns to the Office of the President to "find out what's going on."
"Historically, the university hasn't been as willing to reach compromise as it should be," said Berdahl. "We are perceived as anti-union and I want to dispel that."
The event was sponsored by Berkeley Staff Assembly, an organization open to all staff employees. The group provides a forum for staff to receive information on related issues and voice their opinions to campus administration. For information, email Kay Goldberg at email@example.com.