The editorial has been updated on Monday, Feb. 29 at 3 p.m.
Protesters Thursday demanded the University of California employ union members at the almost-completed UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, claiming UCLA promised to unionize the jobs, but have yet to formally agree.
Regardless, it’s evident its track record with union negotiations and reluctance to openly commit to unionizing future employment opportunities has fostered distrust among labor advocates. How the university decides to proceed at the Luskin Center can be the first step to rebuild a productive relationship.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 not only demanded the Luskin Center employ union members, but also that employees be afforded higher-than minimum wage, benefits and retirement funds.
In response, the university sent AFSCME a letter Friday claiming the union was circulating misleading information and creating confusion among UCLA students and employees. In the letter, Truc Nguyen, a labor relations specialist at UCLA Employee and Labor Relations, said the university met with AFSCME in January and said it would abide by its collective bargaining agreement with the union and fill positions traditionally filled by AFSCME bargaining unit employees with union members.
The university spokesperson Rebecca Kendall said in an e-mail that UCLA and the union reached an agreement on Feb. 26, 2014 to not contract work at the center to outside workers that is customarily performed by UCLA employees. She said workers at the center will be represented by AFSCME.
Kendall said the starting salary for custodians and food service workers at UCLA is already $15.99 an hour, well above the current California minimum wage, and said it has one of the best health and retirement packages in the state.
While this version of events may be underwhelming, labor’s suspicion toward the university isn’t unwarranted. About two weeks ago, the Public Employment Relations Board issued a second unfair practice complaint alleging that the UC violated its collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME.
Earlier this month, the UC finally reached an agreement with the lecturers’ union after seven months of negotiation, three of which lecturers worked without a contract. This uncertainty in the face of unclear policies and opaque negotiations is emblematic of the UC’s relationship with its employees.
Granted, the UC’s actions are not entirely representative of UCLA’s. They can, and do, negotiate separately in some cases. But it’s apparent that the distrust stemming from issues with the UC Office of the President has bled into negotiations at individual universities.
This could be a chance to mend that relationship, to an extent. Asking unions to have faith in the process won’t solve the problem – the university is going to have to be more proactive in demonstrating that it cares about its workers.
UCLA shouldn’t necessarily have to answer for the sins of the whole UC. However, given the circumstances, it would benefit the university to identify this trend and work to actively assuage fears the union members may have as opposed to digging in its heels.