Clerical Workers Demand Fair Share of Wages

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Shouting "You got yours, how about mine?" and "Show us the money," a group of disgruntled clerical workers converged in front of California Hall Wednesday to demand higher wages.

Members of the Coalition of University Employees gathered in front of the soaked lawn, banging pot and pans and yelling at exiting administrators.

Workers said that drumming on kitchenware symbolizes an ongoing hunger strike. One protester had not eaten for 24 days, and some workers have been taking turns fasting in order to pressure the university to boost their wages by 21 percent.

The UC system has a $1.9 billion surplus from last year, said Jane Fehlberg, the clerical worker on a continuous hunger strike.

But university officials said the money is reserved for completing UC Merced and construction projects on the other nine campuses.

The union has asked for a retroactive raise of 6 percent for last year and 5 percent for this year, Fehlberg said. She said workers' salaries are not high enough to meet the cost of living in the Bay Area.

"I'm really angry about the inequity in this university," she said.

High level administrators gave themselves a 24 percent increase last year, even though the clerical workers have been given only a 2 percent increase in the last two years, Fehlberg said.

"The definition of integrity means united and undivided," she said. "If they get theirs, we should get ours."

Sharon Hayden, chief negotiator for the UC system, said some specific administrators did get an increase two years ago and that, the following year, the faculty received a salary boost.

Now, the UC system is targeting the "lower-paid" employees, including the clerical workers, for raises, Hayden said.

"I realize they are frustrated with not receiving the 25 percent they want," she said. "We have to find some middle ground."

The university wants to negotiate but the workers seem reluctant to compromise, Hayden said. She said clerical workers recently got a 3.5 percent increase and, last year, the workers' salaries increased 3.5 percent instead of the 6 percent the union had demanded.

The union had requested a 5 percent jump for next year, but Hayden said the university will likely award them a little over 3.5 percent again, Hayden said.

"I haven't put anything on the table yet," she said.

More than 25 people have volunteered on the liquid-only fast, said clerical worker Jude Bell. Although only one worker has kept up the hunger strike continuously, other workers are taking turns fasting for 24 hour periods. Bell fasts every few days to support the cause, she said.

UC spokesperson Chuck McFadden said the university is making a sincere effort to compromise with the workers.

"We intend to bargain in good faith," he said. "Hopefully, the bargaining will make good progress toward achieving a fair or equitable agreement."

But clerical worker Karen Carkhuff said the university is not addressing workers' concerns.

"It's outrageous how the university is treating and paying us," she said.

Similar protests are happening at colleges across the state, said Claudette Begin, a spokesperson for the clerical workers' union. In all, more than 18,000 workers are protesting against the UC system, she said.

"We'll do what is necessary," Begin said.


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