Submitted by Lakesha Harrison
The UC Office of the President is at it again. One year after facing off against a united front of students, workers and faculty who locked arms in California’s largest protest in recent history, the UC’s top administrators are back at the drawing board, sketching the latest installment of “Project Upward Redistribution.”
In the midst of escalating student fees and nonstop costly campus construction, UC President Mark Yudof’s hand-selected Task Force on Post-Employment Benefits has released their recommendations to overhaul our pension and retiree health benefit systems. After being reviewed by the Office of the President this fall, those recommendations will be voted on by the UC Regents. The Regents will decide whether or not to vote for a plan that would begin dismantling the UC’s most effective tool for retaining dedicated, world-class faculty and staff ““ a decent retirement system.
The Task Force recommendations are so skewed against working families and so ineffective in addressing the serious issue of pension funding reform, they can only be called shameful.
Consider the perspective of Joe Pulido, a UC Berkeley alumnus and beloved UC Building maintenance worker of 30 years. At 60 years old, and with half of his years spent on backbreaking work, Pulido decided to retire in February.
Under the UC’s current retirement formula, Pulido receives a gross income of about $2,700 each month. After taxes and health insurance, that adds up to $30,000 a year. He has enough to cover his prescriptions, doctor visits and basic cost of living. He sets aside anything that’s left for his grandchildren.
Under the Task Force’s proposal, a brand-new UC worker serving the same trajectory as Pulido will retire with $10,751 in gross income, not counting inflation. That’s about $1,804 less each month. Subtracting taxes and health insurance costs, a UC worker in retirement would no longer be able to make ends meet.
Contrast this with the latest reports of UC malfeasance ““ multiple news articles detailing Yudof’s exorbitant housing costs and luxury spa visits on the university’s dime. Add to that his plan to increase pension payouts to UC’s highest-paid executives. Low-wage workers would suffer under the proposal, while executives making over $245,000 will see as much as a $115,000 boost in yearly retirement income.
The formula shakes out such that individuals making around $360,000 see the best gains. You might find it interesting to note that the average salary of the steering committee members responsible for these recommendations is roughly $350,000. This confers additional misgiving to a Task Force that by and large has failed to promote just reform.
Swift, effective action is needed to secure the pension. Cutting benefits for new workers does not address the pension’s most critical problem ““ meeting the gap between inflows and outflows. In the meantime, the pension’s crucial funding gap is left unattended.
The gap could be addressed immediately by restoring UC- and employee-paid pension contributions to the same level they were 20 years ago. Resuming the pension’s total contributions at pre-1990 levels ““ much of which is already covered by federal contracts and medical center revenues ““ will restore the pension to health. This cost would be shouldered by both the UC and employees.
Restoring the public trust means the UC’s leadership must be accountable to the promise of quality, accessibility and dignity for UC students and staff, who together maintain the best university system in the world. By working together, we can maintain the tools that allow us to keep building the UC.
Harrison is president of AFSCME 3299, the UC service and patient care workers union.