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UC workers protest pay and pension changes

Patient care workers protest pension changes outside the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on Thursday.

By Erin Donnelly and Katherine Hafner

Jan. 31, 2013 8:46 p.m.

Hundreds of UCLA service and patient care workers gathered on and near campus on Thursday to protest proposed pay and pension changes that are currently under negotiation with the University of California.

The protesters, some of whom were on their break and were wearing their service uniforms, held signs while circling Covel Commons, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

The protests were part of a series of demonstrations that were scheduled to take place across the UC – at all 10 campuses and at UC headquarters in Oakland, Calif., according to a press release from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 3299 Union, which represents UC employees and organized the day’s protests.

The primary conflict revolves around money needed to pay for the UC pension reform plan, which was approved in 2010 and will go into effect for most workers on July 1.

Based on the current number of University employees, which is about 180,000, the University needs $24 billion to fund the pension program, said UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein. Under the new pension plan, current workers will contribute 6.5 percent of their pay check for each pay period. New employees hired after July 1 will contribute 7 percent per paycheck.

Service workers on the Hill picketed in Covel Commons Thursday to protest UC pension changes.
Service workers on the Hill picketed in Covel Commons Thursday to protest UC pension changes.

The extra money taken from workers’ paychecks will go toward the $24 billion unfunded liability the UC needs to collect, Klein said.

Fourteen unions that work with the UC have already agreed to the pension reform, Klein said.

But the AFSCME Local 3299 union has declined to accept the changes because it would be the equivalent of a $2.70 per hour pay cut, according to the union.

The union rejected the changes because its members feel the cuts would be unfair, said Kathryn Lybarger, president of the union.

The AFSCME Local 3299 union began negotiations with the UC last fall for service worker contracts, and earlier in 2012 for patient care hospital worker contracts, Lybarger said.

AFSCME Local 3299 is asking for an undetermined increase to service workers wages and a 6 percent increase for patient care workers, said Jose Mendez, who works for UCLA Vending and is on the bargaining team for the union.

The UC service workers’ contracts expired on Thursday, which allows the workers to go on strike, she added. On Thursday, the workers protested the changes but did not go on strike, she said.

Several workers picketing at Covel said they did not think the pension changes should come out of their paychecks.

“How can a low paid worker afford to pay 5 percent for pension? You have to work two jobs to afford it,” said Mendez, who also said he knows someone who owns a taco stand in addition to his job at UCLA, to supplement his income.

Martha Torres, who has worked at Bruin Cafe for 14 years, said she came to the protest to help prevent a pay cut so she and her coworkers do not have to resort to a strike later on.

The union workers were also protesting what they consider to be high salaries for UC executives, Lybarger said, especially for UC President Mark Yudof, who will be stepping down in August and is expected to receive $230,000 in additional pension after serving for five years.

Negotiations have currently reached an impasse and a mediator has been called in to arbitrate the discussion, Klein said.

Contributing reports by Alexia Boyarsky, Bruin staff.

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