Beneath an unforgiving sun, a crowd of about 20 individuals sporting blue shirts and signs gathered in front of Brotman Hall on Wednesday to peacefully protest the pay grade structures and benefits for Cal State Long Beach staff.
The Long Beach chapter of the California State University Employees Union rallied together as the 10-month long contract negotiations with the Chancellor’s Office began anew in San Jose.
The union represents staff members employed under operations, maintenance, logistical and clerical occupations such as instructional technology specialists and administrative support.
The union and the Chancellor’s Office brokered peace in April of 2016 through the “Me Too” clause, which promises that the union members will receive an additional 3 percent general salary increase over the current 2014 – 17 agreement with both parties. This pay raise is in addition to the 7 percent wage increase already in the current contract, effectively providing a total pay raise of 10 percent over the three years between July 2014 and June 2017.
The Cal State Board of Trustees recently agreed during their Sept. 19 meeting to give administration — meaning executive administrators, presidents and chancellors — a 2.5 percent pay raise. Members of the California Faculty Association, Students for Quality of Education and Associated Students, Incorporated, raised concerns about the matter during the meeting which were taken into consideration in the discussion.
The “Me Too” clause was was the result of an agreement between both parties. It remained in effect until the end of the original contract, June 30th of this year. A new contract was expected to be negotiated and enacted by July, but no agreements have been finalized since then. According to Martin Brenner, instructional technology specialist for the Bob Cole Conservatory and the Unit 9 steward of the Long Beach chapter, the issue lies with the fact that staff salaries have not kept up with the rate of inflation.
“If you look at the starting salary for a typical staff member in the year 2000 and then in 2017, the change has been less than half the inflation rate. Yet, student tuition and fees have gone up many many times over the rate of inflation,” said Brenner in an email.
Brenner, however, adds that this is not only about the lack of general salary increases but about the lack of avenues for in range progression, which is when an employee who gains a significant increase in additional job-related skills and responsibilities can request for their work to be reviewed for a possible three to 5 percent increase in wages.
Candace Lamoreaux, integration programmer at enrollment services, adds that IRP is the only way for staff members to get a salary increase and that the university system is working to remove it as an option.
“We don’t get to move up [to higher job positions] at all unless we jump to a different position,” said Belen Vargas, network and desktop administrator for enrollment services. “We might get a 5 percent increase, if at all.”
The contract also covers benefits such as insurance, retirement, sick days and family medical leave. While much of the negotiations on this end are resolved, the issue of salary continues to be a point of contention in the ongoing discussions. The ongoing negotiations and contracts affects 1,200 staff members on campus and nearly 16,000 staff members statewide.
The chancellor’s office has offered 2 percent wage increases to the union in comparison to the 2.5 percent increase for the administration.
“2.5 percent for the chancellor is near $10,000 a year. 2 percent for an average person of [Unit 7] is about $800 a year,” said John Ciulik, organizing chair for the Long Beach chapter and administrative support coordinator for the campus’ Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Michael Uhlenkamp, interim senior director of public affairs for the university system, added, however, that while what the Chancellor’s Office offered the union is less than what was given to the administration, the union has comparatively seen greater gains.
According to Uhlenkamp, union staff members have received a collective 12 percent increase over the past three years while management has seen a 9.5 percent increase in that same time frame.
“Employees are our most critical asset and it is important to us to compensate our staff at the appropriate levels,” said Uhlenkamp. “We want the best and brightest, but there are fiscal constraints due to our budget.”
The union’s rally is not to be confused with the faculty demonstration that happened on campus in April of this year which protested for “five for five,” a 5 percent general salary increase and an additional 2.65 percent service salary increase for faculty. The faculty association and Chancellor’s Office have since then reached a tentative agreement.
All 23 campuses in the Cal State system participated in the statewide demonstration, which was done in a show of support for the bargaining team currently negotiating the contract between the union and representatives for the chancellor’s office.
“I hope [the rally] sends a message that there’s a lot of us and that [staff members] are strong. We support each other in this negotiation,” said Lamoreaux. “I hope that [CSU] takes that and comes to the table for real. Be fair and stop the antics.”
This article was updated Oct. 20 with a response from the Chancellor’s Office.