Apr 21, 2019

Black Tuesday marks protest for school employees

Observant students may have noticed “men in black” and “women in black” walking about campus yesterday, and it wasn’t because of the cooler weather.

Dubbed “Black Tuesday” by organizers, the California State University Employees Union (CSUEU) called on its members and supporters to clad themselves in black to protest a proposed salary increase for top executives in the university system.

Dispute over proposed wage increases, particularly a lesser increase for CSUEU employees that the union claims is unfair, has brought CSU and the union to an impasse, with arbitration coming up.

CSUEU represents more than 16,000 non-faculty employees on the 23 CSU campuses and in the Chancellor’s Office.

Nancy Kobata, president of Fresno Chapter 309 of the CSUEU, said the impasse resulted because the CSU Board of Trustees agreed to a 3 percent pay raise for CSUEU employees last year, but has since backed away from that promise.

Retention of certain employees, such as technicians and custodians, will become a problem unless the CSU system raises salaries for those employees to a reasonable level, Kobata said.

She also worried about growth, since the number of staff on campus is declining even as student enrollment increases by up to 5 percent a year.

“They increase the number of buildings, but we only have half as many custodians [as before],” Kobata gave as an example.
CSUEU President Pat Gantt agreed.
“CSU’s human infrastructure is crumbling,” Gantt said in a news release. “The CSU administration once again refuses to recognize the essential contributions made by those who provide health care, administrative and technical services, custodial service, grounds maintenance, and instruction. Without these services, the CSU system would have to close its doors.”

Kobata said that community colleges were paying more for staff than the CSUs, and that the university was losing employees to the community colleges as a result.

Students would ultimately be affected by understaffed departments. Students will care if their classroom is clean, or if they need someone to help them with grades, Kobata said.

According to the CSUEU, proposed pay increases are 11.8 percent for executives, 6.75 percent for managers, 6.2 percent for faculty and 2.7 percent for CSUEU staff. President John D. Welty’s salary is projected to increase 13 to 14 percent.

Kobata said the CSUEU had no problem with salary increases for top executives, but argued the increases needed to be fair across the board, and that a 2 percent increase still fell short of a living wage.

“We have people working two or three jobs [to make ends meet],” Kobata said. “That’s sad.”

In a recent Fresno State bulletin, Welty said that the Board of Trustees was committed to a five-year plan to “improve compensation for all CSU employees in order to improve competitiveness to attract employees.”

He said the wage “lag” existed for virtually all CSU employees. For police, the shortfall was 29 percent, for faculty it was 15.2 percent and for executives it was 46 percent. He said the salary lag for staff was below these figures “depending on the nature of the employees’ duties.”

The Board of Trustees has already negotiated contracts with the police and faculty, and will consider a pay raise for executives this week.

“It is my hope that the CSU will be able to reach agreement with the help of a mediator on salary increases for CSUEU employees in the near future,” Welty said. “Clearly our staff deserves an increase which will begin to address any salary lags which exist.”

CSU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Jeff Bleich said that deciding what compensation is fair versus what is not is debatable.

In an e-mail to The Collegian, Bleich said the Board of Trustees will consider what comparable institutions are paying their employees, and whether CSU is likely to lose good executives or miss recruitment opportunities due to wage lags.

“In general, our goal has been to bring every employee in the CSU system at all job categories up to their market rate in a five-year period,” Bleich said. “Because raises for senior executives are always criticized—even when they are necessary—we have been especially slow at bringing our executives up to market.”

Bleich said the Board of Trustees will consider information from the market as well as what CSUEU has to bring to the table before making any decision on proposed salary increases.

The state budget approved late last month increased funding to the California State University system by $301 million, or seven percent, to a total of $4.3 billion.

In a Sept. 12 news release, CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed said the budget increase allows for 8,000 new students in the CSU system this year. But 55 percent of the new money, or $157.5 million, would be spent on salaries and health benefits for employees.

Besides dressing in black to protest, some union members from various CSU campuses made the trip to Long Beach yesterday to make their voices heard at the Board of Trustees meeting.

Students will also be affected by the Board of Trustees’ decisions because a proposed increase in student fees is also on the table. Votes will come sometime this week.

But regardless of whether the impasse is settled in CSUEU’s favor, Kabata was ambivalent about the process.

“When it comes to negotiations, we have to accept the crumbs that are left over,” Kabata said.

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