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October 25-31, 2006

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

UC Disregards Pleas of Protesting Workers

The University of California, once again, sent a blatant message this week that respecting the opinions and well-being of workers and students is not the UC's first priority.

Protesting students were prohibited from entering a public regents meeting, provoking students to surround the humanities building, the regents trapped inside by the people they theoretically represent--freed only after UC police decked out in riot gear used pepper spray and batons to clear the human blockade. And new demonstrations erupted from the powerful union AFSCME Local 3299 earlier that same day, charging that the UC continues to hold money back from its workers and refuses to honor proposals negotiated between AFSCME officials and chancellors at UCSC, UC-Berkeley and UC-Santa Barbara.

The union marched from the Bay Tree plaza to the base of UCSC's campus with student allies early in the afternoon on Oct. 18. The group of approximately 150 blocked downhill traffic for the length of the march, but quietly dispersed shortly after reaching the base of campus.

The essence of AFSCME's demand is that upholding wage equity has become as much of a priority for paying low-wage workers as it is when determining top administrator salaries.

"Our custodian wages, compared to community college or Cal State University, are significantly low," explains Julian Posadas, executive vice president of AFSCME Local 3299. "In Santa Cruz you have a 14 percent to 30 percent disparity. That's a huge gap."

It looked as if UCSC custodians, who had been battling the UC over wages for nearly four years, were finally going to see their goals met, but obstacles quickly rose in their path. The UC refused to raise the wages of custodians without including other classifications of workers in the deal, and they emphatically denied that money was allocated to them by the state for wage increases, which the Legislative Analyst's Office, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to fiscal policy analysis, confirms.

Posadas says custodians are frustrated by the inequity of having to do just as much work as employees at similar public institutions while being paid significantly less. "The money they found was not even enough to fix the custodian disparity, let alone all the other classifications."

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