Monday, September 23

Aram Ghoogasian: Cuts to administrative bloat can ensure fair pay for contract workers

When it raised its minimum wage to $15, the University of California signaled that it valued its workers. Senate Bill 376, however, is testing just how dedicated the University really is.

The bill proposes that contracted workers at the UC earn the same wages and benefits as University workers who do similar work. Some student leaders and editorial boards from Sacramento to Los Angeles find issue with the fact that the bill is unfunded and are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to veto it.

They may be fighting an uphill battle since SB 376 passed the state Senate with a 60 percent vote in favor and passed the state Assembly with nearly 64 percent. Brown also has a record-low veto record. These percentages indicate the bill is likely to pass.

The UC estimates that the bill will cost somewhere between $48 million and $60 million, far more than the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 union’s $9 million projection. The Senate Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, projected the cost to be under $66 million. The University has been vocal in its opposition but has remained silent on alternative courses of action should the bill become law.

The UC needs to be prepared should the bill be signed in its current form – and the numbers indicate it will. The University must shift money around in its existing budget to cover the cost rather than rely on students for additional revenue as some fear it might do. Expensive administrative costs are a good place to start.

Before claiming that it would be too costly to provide contracted workers with equal pay for equal work, the UC needs to evaluate where its enormous payroll goes. Administrative offices are eating up more and more of the UC’s budget. In fact, from 1991 to 2012, management grew by 252 percent while total employment grew only 51 percent. In the same time frame, UCLA’s management saw growth of over 300 percent. As Todd Lu, a third-year sociology student, pointed out in his presentation to the University of California Student Association earlier this year, the UC’s senior administration has seen 269 percent employment growth since 1993, a far faster rate of growth than faculty employment and student population. Academic administrative officers made an astronomical $118,806,771 in 2014.

An instantaneous cutback on such large funds is unlikely, but a gradual reduction in payroll spending by having administrators sign less lucrative contracts, for example, would make the budget more flexible.

The money to fund this measure is there, it’s just all being spent at the top while contract workers are getting paid lower wages than those that do comparable work.

Even the highest estimated cost is just a bit more than one-fourth of 1 percent of the UC’s roughly $25 billion budget and about one-half of 1 percent of its over $12.5 billion payroll. Surely it can restructure the budget to ensure such a relatively small margin is handed down to the workers without forcing the students themselves to cover it for the University.

The UC argues that its plan to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2017 already addresses the concerns of the bill. Under the Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan, companies that provide services for the UC are required to pay their employees a wage that meets or exceeds the UC’s new minimum wage. This deals with the minimum wage issue, but it does not guarantee that contract workers will receive equal pay for doing comparable work that UC employees do; it only guarantees that their wages will not dip below the minimum.

Students have their grievances as well. In his op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily News, Undergraduate Students Association Council External Vice President Zach Helder stated his opposition to the bill, not because he is against the workers in question earning higher wages, but because he believes it would lead to an increased burden on students. USAC President Heather Rosen and other student leaders across the UC co-signed the submission.

As of yet, the UC has provided no clear indication that the bill would affect student fees. But if it controls its budget as suggested, and says as such, then there will be no need to even suspect students fees would increase to cover the bill’s cost.

Without the bill, the UC hypocritically benefits from cheaper labor for equal work after UC President Janet Napolitano said providing fair pay for UC workers is “the right thing to do.” Additionally, it would continue to take advantage of “temporary” workers who are more likely to be women and more likely to be people of color. They are also twice as likely to live in poverty and many rely on public assistance programs. The UC doesn’t even know how many contract workers it employs, a sure sign that it is either out of touch with this part of its labor force or does not care about its contract workers enough.

Whether the price tag is $9 million or $60 million, it’s imperative that these workers are able to earn the wages they deserve. The financial burden the University would feel after the bill’s potential passage would not be nearly as bad as the consequences workers currently face when they are not paid enough for their work to raise families.

When the UC decided to raise wages to $15 an hour, it made a step in the right direction. Urging the governor to veto this bill without giving contract workers an out is a giant leap backward.

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Opinion columnist

Aram Ghoogasian is an opinion columnist and a member of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board. He often opines about labor issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the University of California.

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