Illustration by Louise Leong.

The largest representative of UC Santa Cruz employees announced the ratification of a new labor contract on Oct. 11 after successful negotiations with the university.

The labor representative, American Federation of County, State, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, represents dining hall employees, patient care providers, maintenance staff and custodians.

AFSCME service workers and patient care members supported the ratification of the new labor contract overwhelmingly, with some reports indicating a voter approval rating of 98 percent in the two regional union units.

Julian Posadas, AFSCME executive vice president, was happy with the ratification of the new union contract, which secured an increase that was left on the negotiating table in 2008.

“The union is reasonable and not demanding exaggerated increases,” Posadas said. “We are certainly only asking for wages that will keep workers out of poverty.”

The ratification of this contract will provide union members with retroactive pay raises and greater retirement benefits.

The new contract resolves the running dispute between AFSCME and the UC. The breakdown of discussion last year contributed to a series of university-wide protests by employees.

With the passage of the new contract, future peaceful labor negotiation between the UC and campus unions such as AFSCME appears feasible. In recent months numerous contract negotiations have reached amicable conclusions.

Ernesto Encinas, a chef at Merrill College Dining Hall, has been a member of AFSCME since 2003, and was pleased by the recent union victory.

“The pressure worked,” he said. “The UC got smart and finally said, ‘Let’s make a deal.’”

Encinas, who works to support his teenage daughter and cares for his aging mother, praised the recent union victory.

The new contract will provide care workers with a 3 percent pay increase retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011, and another 3 percent over 2012. Similarly, employees working in the service sector will receive a 3 percent increase retroactive to Oct. 1, 2011 and another 3 percent in 2012.

“Since I became involved with AFSCME Local 3299 in 2003, the quality of my life and family’s life has improved,” Encinas said.

Bill Pool, a campus maintenance worker and AFSCME union member, felt the negotiations between the UC and the union could have been handled in a more transparent manner.

“They just kind of popped it on us, saying, ‘This is what you’re going to get,’” said Pool in regard to the 3 percent pay increase. Pool went on to say the raise was better than nothing.

“The university is having a hard time and everyone knows that,” he said.

Encinas attributed part of the victory to pressure put on the UC by union locals, state legislatures and the strong voice of both workers and students.

“At first they didn’t want to give us anything — they were playing hardball,” Encinas said in regard to previous negotiations between AFSCME and the UC.

The patient care workers’ contract will expire in September 2012, followed by the expiration of the service workers’ labor contract in 2013. AFSCME executive vice president Posadas is confident future contract negotiations will run more smoothly as the UC now not only has to contend with overwhelming member support, but also the political power dynamic the union successfully established in Sacramento.

The ratification of the new contract has many feeling optimistic about the capacity of AFSCME.

“We have always moved forward since I joined,” Encinas said.