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Brown Vetoes Equal Pay Bill for UC Contract Workers

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Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation on Oct. 9 that would have guaranteed UC full-time contract employees the same minimum wage that UC employees earn. Currently, full-time contract employees earn up to 53% less for the same jobs as their officially employed counterparts.

Senate Bill 376, introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara last February, attempted to amend existing provisions to the competitive bidding process, wherein the UC’s contracts are given to the lowest responsible bidder. Essentially, UCs select private contracting companies based off the company’s ability to provide the best quality service for the lowest price.  The bill would have required private contractors to provide a written statement to the UC that their employees would be paid at a comparable rate to UC workers for all contracts over $100,000 in total.

Senate Bill 376 attracted support from labor groups such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — UC’s largest labor union and one of its heaviest sources of criticism. According to research conducted by AFSCME Local 3299, the UC’s reliance on cheap contract labor drives increasing numbers of workers, particularly immigrants and persons of color, into poverty.

“The effort to provide increased compensation to those who work for UC either directly or on a contract basis is well-intentioned, but I’m not prepared to embrace the provisions of this bill,” Governor Brown said in his veto message.

The governor also noted efforts by the UC to benefit workers in response to criticisms of its wage and contracting practices.

UC President Janet Napolitano announced the Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan Jul. 22, which would raise the minimum wage across UC campuses to $15 over three years.

UC administrators cite the minimum wage increase as an example of their commitment to increasing the well-being of their workers. According to Director of Media Relations Dianne Klein, the plan will affect an estimated 3,200 employees.  However, critics argue that the minimum wage policy is a paltry step in the right direction.  Critics often note that the new minimum wage policy does not affect work-study students; nor does it apply to regular students, as student workers are capped at 19.5 hours per week, while the new policy applies only to those who work more than 20 hours.

A Sep. 24 press release notes the opinion of Kevin Sabo, President of the University of California Student Association (USCA) on Senate Bill 376.

“The University of California Student Association proudly stands in support of its campus workforce. However, at this time, UCSA has no official position on Senate Bill 376,” said Sabo. In a moment of frankness, Sabo also said, “I believe that the narrative around SB 376 has unfairly pitted students against UC workers.”

Sabo also reiterated the position that funding for worker wage increases should not be derived from student tuition payments and should come at the expense of pay raises for UC administrators, 15 of whom the Board of Regents gave a 3% pay raise on Jul. 23, the day after the announcement of the minimum wage plan. Salaries then ranged from the $231,750 (from $225,00 in 2014) paid to Anne Shaw, chief of staff of the UC regents to the $991,942 (from $931,424 in 2013) paid to Mark Laret, the chief executive of UCSF’s medical center.

Though Governor Brown’s veto has ended SB 376-related negotiations, Senator Lara and labor activists have stated that they will continue to act in favor of policy changes for UC contract workers. Many observers note that the bill’s support in the legislature is evidence of the fact that it does not support the current labor practices of the UC system in regards to contract workers.