The University of California has some homework to do when it comes to treating its laborers better. And it can start by not undercutting its employees’ paychecks and blaming it on glitches in its payroll system.
The UC reached an agreement May with the U.S. Department of Labor to repay $1.3 million to workers after a federal investigation found it underpaid more than 13,700 nonacademic employees during payroll system update from 2014 to 2016. The University agreed to provide compensation to those underpaid by at least $20, coming out to an average of just under $100 per worker, but will not pay back the nearly $100,000 it still owes laborers underpaid by less than $20.
This is yet another example of the UC acting dubiously when it comes to the rights of its most vulnerable workers. Undercutting employees’ hard-earned paychecks and agreeing to only selectively provide compensation perpetuates the image of a university system willing to encroach on its employees’ livelihoods as it pleases – a notion that the University can only rebuke if it sheds its blitheness to employees’ needs.
This is nothing new. The UC has a less-than-stellar track record of respecting the needs of its employees. Over the last year, the University slashed laborers’ disability, allowed one of its campuses to stop employing contract workers who fought for higher wages and cut its summer lecturers’ benefits – all while offering lucrative salaries and benefits for high-level administrators.
Clearly, the University jumps at the chance to cut workers’ pay and benefits to save insignificant amounts of money.
The UC’s decision to cut workers’ disability insurance – which many workers use as maternity leave in the absence of systemwide maternity benefits – by 10 percent doesn’t make a significant difference in its operating costs. Neither does its removal of retirement benefits for summer lecturers at four of its campuses – a decision that saved only about $5.1 million. These changes, however, send a message that administrators care little about lecturers and working mothers struggling to make ends meet.
Most recently, UCLA Health ended a contract with about 80 contracted valet workers, a move that could end in several workers losing their jobs, who were each paid at least $15 an hour under the UC’s own Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan, and instead hired 36 insourced workers, some of whom won’t receive employee benefits. Again, administrators show they would rather save a few pennies than pay loyal workers a living wage.
And it comes as no surprise that after underpaying its employees because of supposed payroll hiccups, the UC has the audacity to deny compensation to those underpaid by less than $20.
The UC needs to shed this affinity for threatening its laborers’ livelihoods on a whim. Such practices show a surprising callousness to the needs of university workers and is unbefitting of a renowned educational institution. Compensating all underpaid workers is the first step to making amends, and the University would do well to meet rather than slight the needs of its employees.
To do otherwise would cement the UC’s identity as an institution that shirks payments, guts benefits and punishes workers for seeking fair wages – not exactly endearing qualities for one of California’s largest employers.