Bill's Approval Could Slow Completion of UC Merced

Emma Schwartz covers labor. E-mail her at [email protected].

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A new state law that makes union formation easier may delay the opening of UC Merced, UC officials said Monday.

The bill, introduced by Assembly-member Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno, and signed by Gov. Gray Davis in August, requires UC only to make contracts with companies that will recognize new unions if a majority of potential members petition for unionization.

UC officials said the law may cost the university an additional $20 million in the construction of UC Merced, scheduled to open in fall 2004, because vendors bidding for UC contracts may not want to comply with the new contract requirements.

"This bill could deter vendors from making investments because they might not want to abide by these regulations," said UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz. "There is already an adequate process for employees to choose representation, and in light of the potential economic effects to the university, we opposed the bill."

The UC Board of Regents must approve the bill before it is implemented.

But union leaders said the bill would not cost UC extra money because the petitions would minimize conflict between labor and management that often arises when workers seek unionization.

"It makes it easier for working families to be able to join a union without the big fights and work stoppage," said Lakesha Harrison, president of the UC division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 17,000 UC workers. "The bottom line is that if you're (a prestigious) university, you shouldn't treat your workers the worst."

Harrison said the union advocates giving all UC Merced contract laborers full employment status, which would ensure them higher salaries.

State Assembly members said the bill brings UC up to speed with policies in place at many other public institutions in the state.

"UC is a notoriously bad employer," said Hans Hemann, spokesperson for Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley. "This measure simply extends the right to (employees under contract with UC) that other employees at local agencies and schools currently have."

UC Merced officials said the bill would not deter the university's projected start date.

"This is not a show-stopper for us," said UC Merced spokesperson James Grant. "We'll find ways to continue."

A Superior Court in Merced County approved on Monday the Environ-mental Impact Report for the $225 million UC Merced project, allowing UC to begin the construction process.

Grant said building will start as soon as officials select a contractor.


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