Wage protest skips UC Merced campus

MERCED -- The sights and chants of picketing service workers might be common at many campuses in the University of California system, but officials don't expect picket lines to form at UC Merced anytime soon.

While multitudes of workers walked off the job at campuses including UC Davis and UCLA on Monday, at UC Merced, only four workers were reported as absent, said UC Merced spokeswoman Tonya Luiz.

"We know those absences were not preapproved," she said.

Elsewhere, thousands of University of California employees gathered on picket lines Monday to protest a deadlock over wage increases.

The strike involves workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, who perform housekeeping, cafeteria and security serv- ices on UC campuses.

Merced has 61 in union

There are 61 UC Merced workers represented by AFSCME, the majority of whom are employees in the facilities management department.

The four workers who were absent Monday included three from the dining department and one from the facilities management department, Luiz said.

Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME Local 3299, said Monday that the union was not planning any large pickets at UC Merced.

Those UC Merced workers who are striking, however, will participate in picket lines at UC Davis, Harrison said.

At UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, 500 to 550 people chanted and waved signs Monday morning.

The workers moved forward with the strike even though a San Francisco County Superior Court judge Friday issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the strike. Harrison called the restraining order a "fear tactic," saying the workers were exercising their constitutional rights.

"No one can take that away from them," Harrison said. "The workers decided they we're going to take it any more."

Luiz said those workers at UC Merced who strike will fall under the same policy as any other unauthorized absence -- each day they participate in the strike will be considered leave without pay.

Union officials claim their wages have fallen behind other colleges, including the community college system. Many employees earn $10 an hour, which is as much as 25 percent behind comparable workers at other institutions, the union says.

Talks have been under way for nearly a year to resolve the wage dispute. The union seeks a pay increase to $15 an hour.

The union claims low wages make 96 percent of its members eligible for government welfare programs.

University officials offered to increase wages to $11.50 to $12 an hour. But the union rejected the offer and 97 percent of its members voted to strike.