The University of California is an institution built for opportunity, not just for students, but for its workers too. However these workers — the custodians, gardeners, food-service workers and facilities maintenance staff — have been working without a contract since February.

After a year of unresolved negotiations, the university, having complied with all stages of the bargaining process, was legally allowed to move forward with implementing its latest proposal, according to a recent press release by the UC Office of the President (UCOP). On Sept. 24, the UC announced that it would be implementing its latest offer for wages and a revised pension plan for more than 8,300 UC service employees who are represented by the local 3299 branch of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME 3299).

The terms of the latest proposal included an imposition of a two-tiered pension plan on AFSCME employees. Previously, workers contributed 5 percent of their pay towards their pension. Now, workers hired before July 1 must contribute 6.5 percent and workers hired on or after July 1 must contribute 7 percent. The UC’s contribution to their employees’ pension is now 12 percent from their previous contribution of 10 percent.

This move by the UC has been met with resistance, especially by representatives in AFSCME 3299. President of AFSCME 3299 Kathryn Lybarger said that the increase in contributions also means a decrease in wages for service workers.

“The only group that has been singled out for a 0 percent wage increase with the additional 1.5 percent pay cut for the pension is the lowest paid group of workers at the university — the service workers,” Lybarger said.

Shelly Meron, a media specialist for UCOP, does not agree with the idea that the UC imposed a wage cut on workers and pointed out that AFSCME 3299 “service workers received a 2 percent wage increase in July. They also received up to 5 percent wage increases in each of the last two years. There were no additional wage increases as part of the contract implementation. Wages for these workers are already above market.”

However, this 2 percent increase in worker pay is a step increase according to the UC press release. Step increases to worker pay are incremental, which spokesperson for AFSCME 3299 Todd Stenhouse said is not enough.

“It was a increase guaranteed in the terms of the previous contract,” Stenhouse said. “What they imposed in September was a wage freeze. Step increases are designed to increase loyalty to the UC.”

In contrast to the wage cuts, non-represented staff are receiving a 2 to 3 percent raise across the board with a few exceptions — such as the president, chancellors and other top senior management members, according to the 2013-14 Salary Plan.

The UC and AFSCME 3299 began the collective bargaining process for a new contract in October 2012. What followed was a year of failures to compromise. The final negotiation session occurred on Sept. 18 and concluded unresolved. Despite not having reached an agreement, both the UC and AFSCME 3299 would like to continue negotiations.

“[The] UC values its employees and we are eager to resume talks with AFSCME,” Meron said. “We hope that they’ll come back to the bargaining table.”

She also describes the efforts by new UC President Janet Napolitano to address the concerns of AFSCME 3299.

“UC President Janet Napolitano recently extended an invitation to meet with both the local and international leadership of AFSCME, as part of her outreach efforts to different constituencies at UC,” Meron said.

In the press release, the UC writes that the implementation of these new terms are “fair, fiscally responsible, and guarantee our staff quality health care benefits, as well as attractive pension and retiree health benefits that few public and private employers nationwide offer.”

But Lybarger is critical, and says that the implementation of these new terms aggravate the challenges these workers face in their everyday lives.

“When you make a small cut like this, or what looks like a small cut, it’s actually a pretty big cut where we’re standing,” Lybarger said. “Honestly, the cost of a tank of gas may not sound like a lot … but given that almost none of workers can afford to live where they work, they have to live far away and drive to work everyday. It actually matters.”

Stenhouse believes this implementation is an upending of the traditional values that the UC system once portrayed for its students and workers.

“UC’s legacy — ­its invaluable, immeasurable importance to the state of California has largely been building ladders to the middle class for students and for workers,” Stenhouse said. “But yet, here we are now. UC’s not building ladders to the middle-class, it’s setting fire to those ladders.”