Professionals News Update: March, 2005


Voices of UPTE
UPTE-CWA Local 9119 is comprised of thousands of University of California employees -- all individuals with stories to tell. Following are the words of John Spring, who works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He has worked at the Lab for 11 years as a Computer Development 3.

My job title is roughly equivalent to a Programmer Analyst II on the campuses, but I have worked at the Lab in various capacities: As a graduate student in Physics, I first worked on a soft x-ray interferometer; then I was a contract software engineer, then a term employee, and finally a career employee. My work is challenging, my supervisor is a reasonable and respectful man, and my pay is not too bad. So why did I join UPTE as soon as I became a career employee?

Well, first of all, I have not always been a Lab employee; I'm 47 years old and have spent thirty-two years in the workforce. I know what it's like to not have a voice in my job. I've seen layoffs that cost many of the workers their jobs but left the bosses who created the problems in place. And I've had the wonderful experience of watching fellow workers being pitted against each other in all sorts of creative ways. It happens. A lot.

Secondly, the eight hours (or more) at work is usually spent at the most creative and directed effort of the entire day. I am dedicated to doing a good job, and therefore expect to be treated as a valuable part of this machine we call research at the University of California. But asmy past experiences have shown, I cannot always rely on a rational response from a given employer; to them, I am a possibly expendable component whose value must outweigh my costs. So I need another force on my side, an ally who will come to my aid and amplify my voice. That force is UPTE.

This is a union that has become perceptibly stronger since I joined it four years ago. The work and care that the many activists in UPTE have devoted to its growth fill me with pride and hope that finally I can have a salutary effect on my coworkers and work environment. I can make a difference – for myself and others – by simply handing out leaflets to coworkers and answering questions about UPTE!

You can also make a difference! It's the one employees' club that has a global effect on everyone's job. Please join us!!

Research and Technical Employees' Bargaining – Why Does this Matter to Professional Employees?
As staff professionals [otherwise, the “we” is indeterminate] settle into our third year without a general salary increase, we have a lot riding on the outcome of the current negotiations for UPTE-represented research and technical employees.

A common complaint of professional staff is that the open-range (or “merit pay”) system of salary setting is unfair. The reasons cited vary from the pay system itself being underfunded, to the linking of pay increases to performance appraisals being subject to abuse and/or favoritism.

UPTE's technical (TX) and research professional (RX) employees have been at the bargaining table with the University since last summer. The biggest issue involves funding for step increases. Last year, all UPTE-represented RX and TX employees who were still on a “merit”-based pay plan were converted to a step-based pay plan. (See sidebar for a comparison of “merit”- and step-based pay plans.)

The University has made different claims about funding for step increases. Early in bargaining it said that it had the money but that it choose not to use it for pay increases. Later it said that it just didn't have the money. Recent newspaper articles have reported on the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) fact-finding panel decision that found that the University diverted funds allocated for pay increases to other uses.

But it really doesn't matter what the University says, because funding for step increases doesn't cost the University money . In a finite staffing universe, each year higher-paid (or “topped out”) employees retire while other employees move up a step in the pay range. This leaves approximately the same number of employees at each step of the pay range at any given time. Funding for a step-based pay system is a “zero sum game” – in which a gain by one side (step increase) is matched by a loss by another side (topped out employees leaving the University).

A step-based pay plan allows employees to better predict future pay increases. It also limits the role that performance plays in the setting of salary increases. For example, under most step-based pay plans, an employee receives a step increase if his/her performance is rated as “satisfactory.” A step-based pay plan also helps to protect employees' salary increases from unfair supervisor evaluations. This is not to say that performance issues should be swept under the rug, but that they should be addressed through performance appraisal, counseling, and, if necessary, disciplinary action.

If staff and administrative professional employees are ever to achieve meaningful reform of UC's merit pay system, we need to support the efforts of UPTE's RX and TX employees at the bargaining table. They're paving the way for us.

Step-Based Pay Plans

“Merit”-based or “Open Range” Pay Plans

Employees typically move up one step each year until they “top out” at the top of the pay range.

Employees receive anywhere from 0% to the department's “control figure” – a target that all departments need to average.

Step increases are in addition to cost-of-living-adjustments or range increases.

There are no cost-of-living-adjustments or range increases.

Overall performance appraisal of “satisfactory” means that employees receive a step increase.

Overall performance appraisal of “satisfactory” does not guarantee employees a specific salary increase.

Step increases range from 2% to 4.8% depending on the contract.

There are no defined increases within the pay range.

Celebrate Women's History Month
March is Women's History Month and U.S. working women still make only 75 cents for every dollar men make. Pay equity, comparable worth, career development, childcare, elder care, health benefits, and retirement are some issues of particular importance to working women. Do something positive for yourself and other women. Join the union (see below) and help make a change for the better.

Membership Has Its Privileges
To fill out an UPTE membership application, go to


Member benefits include the right to vote in UPTE to help determine the direction of the union as well as access to the AFL-CIO's union benefits (discounts, insurance plans, credit cards, etc.) Joining UPTE also puts you in touch with others who are interested in their working lives and are willing to step up to the plate to do something about it.

Labor Board Issues Charge Against UC
California 's Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has issued a complaint against the University of California for refusing to provide UPTE with information related to the 99 unit.

ast year UPTE requested a variety of pieces of information in order to effectively meet and discuss with UC's Office of the President about salary and other issues related to the 99 unit. The University either refused or failed to provide information including salary history of executive employees, aggregate savings from staff

turnover, salary surveys, amount of incentive award program funds remaining per campus, etc. UPTE has argued that it requires this information in order to effectively lobby for 99 unit salary increases and other benefits costs.

The PERB has scheduled a settlement conference between UPTE and UC. In the meantime, UPTE has requested the same information for next year (05-06) from the Office of the President.

Walking the Picket Line with AFSCME
Lisa Kermish, Senior Analyst, Berkeley

I spent Thursday, April 14 walking the picket line with custodians, groundskeepers, and food service workers at Berkeley. I arrived at Bancroft and Telegraph (the southern boundary of the Berkeley campus) at 8 am. This busy intersection was already filled with AFSCME-represented service workers wearing green strike t-shirts and carrying picket signs that said Strike for Justice at UC!

Unionized truckers, delivery people, and construction workers refused to cross the picket lines. Classes were canceled or held outside near the picket lines, which were set up at various locations around the campus.

I am a senior administrative analyst at a social science research unit. My co-workers are analysts, programmers, and clerical employees, not dishwashers or groundskeepers. So why did I honor AFSCME's picket line?

  1. What is good for one group of employees is good for all employees. Whatever AFSCME is able to gain in a contract will set the bar for what other unions can achieve as well as what the University decides to grant to non-unionized employees.
  2. AFSCME employees are grossly underpaid and deserve a living wage. Hundreds of service employees make less than $9.00 per hour, virtual poverty wages. No matter how much I can (and do!) complain about not having had a pay increase for almost three years, I'm not forced to choose between groceries or shoes for the kids. I don't have to work a second job to pay my rent. UC's service workers deserve the support of all UC employees in their battle to win fair pay increases.
  3. Friends don't let friends cross picket lines. Voting to strike is not an easy decision- it is a course of last resort. These low-paid workers chose to forego a day's pay because they felt they had no other recourse. The least I could do was to respect their choice and add my feet and lungs to their cause.

The mood on the picket line all day was upbeat. Thousands of AFSCME members, members of other unions, and student, faculty, and community supporters marched alongside our service employees. There were rallies at noon and in the afternoon at our new Chancellor's reception. At the afternoon rally, I had an opportunity to speak with the night custodian in my building, the man who empties my trash, vacuums my carpet and kindly takes my recycling down to the basement. He has worked at Berkeley for 20 years and makes $28,000 per year. When AFSCME was able to reach a tentative contract agreement six days after the strike, I thought of this custodian. The tentative agreement was ratified by 87% of those voting. Foregoing one day's pay seems to have been worth it.

Membership Has Its Privileges
To fill out an UPTE membership application, go to

Member benefits include the right to vote in UPTE to help determine the direction of the union as well as access to the AFL-CIO's union benefits (discounts, insurance plans, credit cards, etc.) Joining UPTE also puts you in touch with others who are interested in their working lives and are willing to step up to the plate to do something about it.