by Clyde Weiss and Todd Stenhouse | June 29, 2015
AFSCME has long stood for pay equity – equal pay for equal work – especially relating to the need to close the wage gap between women and men working the same types of jobs. The same principles also hold true for the private contract workers (also known as "temporary" or “contingent” workers) employed at the University of California, many of whom perform the same duties as UC’s career employees but earn far less, and receive little or no benefits.
A solution is at hand, which we urge California state lawmakers to support. The bill, SB 376, would ensure that employees of private firms providing contract services to the university system are paid commensurate wages as career UC employees performing the same jobs. Its author, State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, recently wrote an opinion piece in The Sacramento Bee, from which we quote:
“Here’s the problem: These workers are paid by outside firms, not UC. And because of that, they are paid as much as 53 percent less as career workers doing the same jobs, with few benefits… At UC, this translates to private contractors taking millions of dollars in public money, imposing additional hidden costs onto taxpayers, endangering workers and driving more and more of them into poverty. And because these private contracts – often initiated under the guise of ‘meeting a temporary need’ – are routinely extended for years, it also means that there is nothing temporary about the problem.”
AFSCME Local 3299 Pres. Kathryn Lybarger, also an AFSCME International vice president, said raising the standards of private contractors that provide services to public agencies, including the University of California, “is the only way to combat the exploitation these practices make possible.” Local 3299 is UC’s largest employee union, representing more than 22,000 employees at UC’s 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics, research laboratories and UC Hastings College of the Law.
UC’s own Labor Center at UC Berkeley has reported that temporary workers are paid 22 percent less than career workers performing the same jobs. Mostly people of color, these workers are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to require some form of taxpayer financed public assistance, the report states.
“There is no reason that any public institution should be subsidizing business models built on a foundation of poverty and second-class treatment of communities of color. But it is happening, ironically, at the same institution that has been sounding alarms about the problem,” Lara wrote in his Sacramento Bee column. “With SB 376 – equal pay for equal work for subcontractors at UC – we have a great opportunity to finally do something about it.”
On June 8, Lybarger and several subcontracted UC workers met with Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to discuss the hardships caused by UC’s outsourcing practices, and the transformative impact that SB 376 could have on thousands of workers across the UC system.
“With contingent labor growing at nine times the rate of career employment nationally, there is no question that the growing exploitation of subcontracted workers – particularly in the public sector – is a major contributor to rising poverty and income inequality,” Lybarger added. “We are encouraged by Secretary Clinton’s sincere interest in this issue, and hope she will join us in supporting common sense reforms like SB 376.”
Todd Stenhouse is communications director for AFSCME Local 3299.
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