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An Oakland, Calif., labor lawyer seems poised for a rare kind of victory, though likely a brief one. Union-side attorneys seldom get the chance to lead negotiations with employers. So Leonard Carder partner Arthur “Ari” Krantz made the most of his first such opportunity in November, when he argued before an arbitration panel that his client, the Coalition of University Employees, deserves a wage increase from the University of California. The union’s 15,000 clerical workers haven’t had a raise in more than two years. The three-member panel apparently agreed, according to a confidential draft of the arbitrators’ report. While UC had argued that it froze wages because it received no increase in state funding, the panel found that most of the workers’ salaries were paid from non-state sources anyway. It concluded that UC could afford to raise pay but was instead putting the money into its general fund. Meanwhile, it hiked pay for faculty and other staff. “Based on the record before the fact-finders, there is no question that the university is in a position to afford a wage increase,” the panel wrote after hearing arguments and witness testimony from both sides. But rather than reconciling the protracted dispute, the arbitrators’ pro-union finding seems more likely to increase tensions because the recommendation is not binding. The arbitration panel said as much in its draft. “Ultimately, the university may prevail in a street fight with the union over how the money should be spent,” wrote the panel, led by neutral Gerald McKay. “But the university’s claim that it does not have the money to spend is not supported by the evidence.” Krantz said the state-mandated arbitration process was a refreshing change from a labor lawyer’s normal work of vetting union literature, filing National Labor Relations Act complaints, and litigating issues such as picketing disputes that come up in a union campaign. “There’s a lot of interesting things about [arbitration]. The expert testimony plays a big role,” said Krantz. And unlike union litigation, which frequently focuses on procedural issues, he said, “Here, it’s all about the merits.” But Krantz added that the nonbinding nature of the panel’s recommendation is frustrating, since the dispute — which has been going full-bore since 2003 — now seems headed for a strike. “It’s going to take more than a scathing report to move [UC] off their position,” he said. Therese Leone, an attorney in UC’s Office of the General Counsel who argued the case, did not respond to requests for comment. Spokesman Noel Van Nyhuis said he could not comment on the dispute. The arbitration comes after two years of wrangling over raises for the clerical employees, who, the arbitrators said, are paid considerably less than their counterparts at other universities, including those within the California State University system. Like other California public-sector unions, the clerks are required to participate in bargaining, mediation and finally the trial-like hearing before the three arbitrators — one chosen by each side, and a neutral chosen by consensus — before striking. Labor attorneys say that the rigidly proscribed procedures and the fact that most bargaining happens during work hours tend to make public-sector disputes stretch out over years. The idea, says Stephen Hirschfeld, partner with Curiale Dellaverson Hirschfeld & Kraemer, is to minimize disruptions to public services. “In the private sector, you could get this whole thing to come to a head much quicker. It could be destructive, but much quicker,” said Hirschfeld, who represents public employers in labor disputes. “It’s pretty rare, in my experience, to have private-sector disputes go on for as long as UC.” Krantz and Van Nyhuis said the final report was mailed to them Monday. Both sides have 10 days to attempt a resolution before the report is made public.

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