Rein in Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia spend­ing on ad­min­is­tra­tors

The Mercury News - - Opinion - By Kathryn Ly­barger Kathryn Ly­barger is pres­i­dent of AFSCME Lo­cal 3299, the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s largest em­ployee union, which rep­re­sents more than 24,000 front­line ser­vice and pa­tient care work­ers.

If you visit the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s me­dia page, you will see many sto­ries about the work it is do­ing in such ar­eas as tech­nol­ogy and med­i­cal re­search, pro­mot­ing free speech, and tak­ing on the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But a broader search quickly re­veals a dif­fer­ent side of UC — tu­ition hikes, over­sized ex­ec­u­tive pay and bloated bu­reau­cracy, abuse of low wage work­ers and out­sourc­ing of jobs, for well-con­nected VIPs, and the squan­der­ing of bil­lions of pub­lic dol­lars on slush funds, boon­dog­gles and un­der­per­form­ing hedge funds— to name just a few.

Some have made the case that we sim­ply need to take the good with the bad. That we should re­sist ef­forts to hold Cal­i­for­nia’s most prized pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion ac­count­able to its core pub­lic mis­sion be­cause it houses some No­bel Lau­re­ates and is led by an Obama Cabi­net ap­pointee.

This is not help­ing UC, its em­ploy­ees, pa­tients, stu­dents, or Cal­i­for­nia.

Last month, a San Jose Mer­cury News re­view of in­ter­nal UC doc­u­ments re­vealed that the $15/hour min­i­mum wage plan the state’s third largest em­ployer an­nounced to much fan­fare in 2015 was lit­tle more than a PR ploy.

It was hatched amidst a US Depart­ment of La­bor in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions — in­clud­ing wage theft and pay­ing work­ers un­der mul­ti­ple names to skirt over­time laws—in­volv­ing con­trac­tors at UC Berke­ley.

The Mer­cury News in­ves­ti­ga­tion high­lighted that not only are ser­vice con­trac­tors openly vi­o­lat­ing UC’s new wage pol­icy, but also that the univer­sity is mak­ing al­most no ef­fort to en­force it.

This comes on the heels of three blis­ter­ing state au­dits — one of which re­vealed that the univer­sity has been in­creas­ingly dis­plac­ing its own em­ploy­ees in fa­vor of no-bid pri­vate con­trac­tors who pay less, of­fer no ben­e­fits and of­ten fail to gen­er­ate mean­ing­ful sav­ings for the univer­sity.

Less than a month ago, Gov. Jerry Brown ve­toed a bill (SB 574) that would have guar­an­teed these non-tem­po­rary work­ers equal pay with UC em­ploy­ees who do the same jobs. As in each of the past three years, the Univer­sity made killing Sen. Richard Lara’s “equal pay” mea­sure its top leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity, even as it has pro­fessed prin­ci­ples like so­cial mo­bil­ity, equal­ity and fair treat­ment for im­mi­grant work­ers, and as it pleaded for more state fund­ing.

Fail­ure to ad­dress UC’s abuse of its most vul­ner­a­ble low-wage work­ers has been ri­valed only by its fail­ure to rein in the abuses of its high­est paid ex­ec­u­tives. This year, we’ve learned that ranks of high paid ad­min­is­tra­tors have ex­ploded to a level that dwarfs that of pub­lic univer­sity peers, while shelling out half mil­lion dol­lar para­chutes to dis­graced ex-chan­cel­lors.

Last year, we heard about UC ex­ec­u­tives sup­ple­ment­ing mil­lion dol­lar pub­lic pay­checks with moon­light­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that con­flict with their pub­lic roles, even as the UC Re­gents rub­ber stamped a so-called pen­sion re­form that will ac­tu­ally pro­vide these UC elites with even richer ben­e­fits, while im­pos­ing cuts on its lower paid front­line work­ers.

In his SB 574 veto mes­sage, Brown lauded the in­ten­tion of ad­dress­ing con­tract worker abuse and lamented ex­ec­u­tive com­pen­sa­tion that he said was “far beyond what the av­er­age Cal­i­for­nian would think is rea­son­able.” But sadly, both per­sist.

Like democ­racy it­self, a pub­lic univer­sity is only as strong as our will­ing­ness to fight to make it bet­ter. This does not re­quire us to throw out UC’s at­tributes. It com­pli­ments them and reaf­firms our core pub­lic mis­sion rooted in build­ing path­ways to the mid­dle class.

If we fail to act, we will only suc­ceed in trans­form­ing the na­tion’s lead­ing pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion into a na­tional mon­u­ment to in­come in­equal­ity. And there can only be one Trump Univer­sity.

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