This year, the University of California celebrates “150 years of pioneering a better future.” While the UC celebrates, its Black female university workers are still receiving 10 to 23 percent lower wages than their white male counterparts, a yearly difference of $3,946 to $15,785.
The UC cannot claim to be an institution contributing to global change while continuously oppressing their most vulnerable workers.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299 released its Pioneering Inequality report this month, examining demographic data of the UC workforce and exposing racial and gender discrimination within the UC system.
This report was released after UC Berkeley dining hall employee David Cole was tackled and arrested during a UC-wide demonstration on Feb. 1. These demonstrations were intended to draw attention to new contract negotiations between AFSCME 3299 and the UC. Cole’s arrest exacerbated the already tense contract negotiations between AFSCME and the UC Office of the President.
The trends in AFSCME 3299’s report go beyond the UC institution. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black women make about 37 percent less in annual wages than white men on average. Our country thrives economically through the systematic exploitation of communities of color in the service and labor sector.
AFSCME 3299 reported that in 2015, the bottom 50 percent of employees account- ed for only 22 percent of total payroll costs while the top 10 percent represented 31 percent of total payroll costs. The salaries of top administrators within the system grew by 64 percent between 2005-2015 while the salaries of service workers have remained relatively stagnant. This academic year, eight UC chancellors received raises that totaled over $110,000. Chancellor Blumenthal received a $11,840 raise in 2017.
The UC needs to recognize that its service workers need to be treated with the same dignity and respect that its chancellors and executives receive. Communities of color have little to no representation within the UC administration, those in charge of hiring and employment decisions are predominantly white.
The largest UC campuses and medical centers are located in some of the most expensive areas in California. Living costs continue to rise and wages are not being adjusted to counteract these changes.
AFSCME Local 3299 represents the lowest-paid workers, including students, in the UC system, and is the most diverse group of workers: 79 percent are non-white and 56 percent are female. Because the UC is the largest employer in California, their wage practices affect more than university worers — its over $46 billion economic foot- print determines the standard for wages across the state.
“It’s important to recognize that these impacts are not just limited to wages, benefits or working conditions — but to broader economic and social outcomes for both the most and least advantaged communities,” the AFSCME 3299 report stated. Fear of termination and unemployment, which would affect the lives of workers and their families, often suppresses any form of resistance. Labor activist Rebecca Gilpas said she experienced workplace discrimination from her UCSC on-campus employer for her union organizing activities.
To cut wage costs, the UC outsources jobs to over 7,000 contract workers who do the same jobs as career employees but earn as much as $8.50 less per hour, according to the AFSCME 3299 report. Contract workers are paid less, receive no benefits and are victims of illegal labor abuses like wage theft.
Non-white contract workers constitute 96 percent and 93 percent of contract workers at UC Berkeley and UCLA, respectively. The AFSCME report found that “at UC Berkeley and UCLA, the percentage of outsourced service contractors who are Black is similar to the percentage of career service workers who were Black a decade ago.”
Researchers at Occidental College found that 45 percent of nearly 14,000 UC clerical, administrative and support staff have very low food security. The study found that Black and Latinx workers experience the highest rates of food insecurity among university workers. Nobody who has a job, especially at a world-renowned institution like the UC, should suffer from food insecurity.
Instead of increasing salaries of individuals who already make six figures, the UC should ensure that its most essential workers receive living wages. A 2017 report from California’s state auditor found that UC executive and administrative salaries are much higher than those of state employees with similar positions.
The UC needs to recognize its immense power and reassess how it allocates fund- ing and meet AFSCME 3299 demands at the bargaining table. Students must be more proactive allies to service workers and realize the problems they face are our problems as well.
Without students, the UC would not exist, therefore we must also recognize the power we possess and utilize it to help each other. If nothing is done, social, economic, gender and racial discrimination will persist.