AFSCME President Says Furlough Plan Disportionately Impacts Those at the Bottom

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lakeesha_harrison-lby Sarah Kanbar

Today the UC Board of Regents will vote on a controversial plan that will enact furloughs to help close the growing budget of the University of California.  UC President Mark Yudof announced this proposal last week, and the plan still has to go through full board approval and union approval.  While this plan seeks to save money by avoiding cutting jobs, and instead opting for between 11 to 26 unpaid days off proving a small salary cut, UC employees, professors, and AFSCME Local 3299 are openly stating their opposition.

The Vanguard had the opportunity to do a brief phone interview with AFSCME Local 3229 President Lakesha Harrison.  The Vanguard asked Ms. Harrison two questions revolving around this ordeal: Is this fair? And who does this effect the most?

Fairness is key to understanding the disapproval of employees who do not make a substantial income.  While it is true that those who make less than $40,000 a year will only see 11 furlough days or a 4% cut in salary, they still must suffer losses.  However, those who work for such small wages do not have much to spare, and the concern over being able to provide “bread and medicine,” as Harrison put it, would grow.  Harrison noted that Yudof’s $800,000 annual salary is what makes this an issue of fairness.

 

While those on the bottom have to suffer losses, President Yudof’s widely reported salary is excessive and it includes such perks as automobile allowances, pension funding in the $200,000 range, and a 10 acre mansion with full staff that is undergoing renovation.  More recently, new UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi is reported to be receiving $400,000 in annual salary.  As Harrison explained, those who are sitting on the very top should have to abandon the perks and excesses that are being given to help close the budget gap.  And her point is clear, why should they live in excess while those below them have to suffer losses?

Harrison believes that this furlough plan will not have any positive outcome, nor will it help close the budget, instead, she believes that this plan will end up costing the UC.  As Harrison explains, losing a day of work means that there is more work to be done the next day.  And while Yudof’s proposal calls for having furlough days being scattered throughout the year, it is common logic that one day of missed work in most cases leads to more work the next day.  Just imagine if someone who works in medical billing lost a day of work; in some cases this can lead to misplaced files, lost bills, paperwork not being mailed, and so on.  In the end, it just makes a mess, and that employee has to work harder to fix small tasks.

But the group that suffers the most is a group I am more familiar with: students.  There has already been controversy with the loss of student services and rise in student fees, and it seems unfair to have to pay more and get less.  Harrison stated that if the UC system were already to raise fees then there is no need to have to lose workdays.  The furlough system, as she pointed out, will impact students negatively with the loss of custodians in dorms, food servers in cafeterias, and all the workers that make day-to-day life in a college bearable.  This might seem outrageous, but to lose a day of clean bathrooms in a college dorm does not sound like the ideal college life, and it does not sound like something that could come from one of the nation’s top university system.  These employees who make the least are the employees that students will encounter more often in a single day; they are always looked over, but they are the ones who clean our trash, serve us food, take care of our campuses and us.

Harrison has noted that the alternatives to this are to cut pay from the very top, starting with President Yudof and to rethink how the UC is spending its money.  There have been poorly planned campaigns from many campuses to increase donations and there have also been ill advised funding.  There will be losses, since the deficit is $813 million, and everyone will have to suffer, but what seems to be forgotten is that this is higher education and we are not dealing with a high ranking corporation.

Laura Nader, the prestigious professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley published an open letter to Mark Yudof noting that the original mission of the UC was to freely educate able California residents.

She writes:

“The original philosophy that the university, as a public institution, should be accessible and within the financial means of every resident regardless of economic class and status has withered.”

It maybe doubtful that Californians will ever see that mission fulfilled, but the issues that the UC system facing today are much more staggering.  It is well accepted that losses will have to be made, but furloughs are only a notch in comparison to the larger issues of poor spending and overly excessive salaries.

She continues:

“Politically-selected regents have not husbanded the university. Most have been negligent in their budgetary responsibilities, unaccountable on policy questions, deaf to students, staff and faculty concerns, and disdainful of the very people who make a university great.

In a non-profit educational system, there is no ethical place for comparisons with profit-making corporations and US CEO pay that astonishes even CEOs in other countries.”

It is this educational vision that has been lost, but one we should continue to fight for.  Unfortunately those at the top continue to thrive in the UC System, while the commitment to educate the students and help those at the bottom earn a living wage has suffered.

Sarah Kanbar is an intern with the People’s Vanguard of Davis

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “AFSCME President Says Furlough Plan Disportionately Impacts Those at the Bottom”

  1. martin

    I am surprised that your article didn’t mention the students who have to pay you. Please address the students’ needs, not just your own. The University is not there to pay you, it is there to educate young people so that they can participate in our society. How will your pay increases improve the chances of young people who can no longer afford to attend the university and be trained for jobs?

  2. linkletter

    As the Bee pointed out yesterday,Yudof did something that the state didn’t, he added progressivity to the cuts. Whether or not you think the cuts are too deep, or the progressivity too shallow its better than what the state did to its workers. As for blaming UC for balancing its budget by hollowing out its mission while treating its administration like royalty, I wonder what percentage of the budget goes to administration and how that compares with other public institutions. Although it seems like the current state of affairs is the result of policy decisions at UC it is really the result of the same failure of the state to fund a public sector due to philosophical beliefs of conservatives that the public sector should only exist to protect us from phyical harm by locking up every transgressor and throwing away the key.

  3. inkblot

    In the AFSME representative we see the problem revealed. She believes that the purpose of the university is to provide jobs for her and her chums. It’s just what the city workers see as the purpose of the city of Davis, and just what State workers see as the purpose of California government.

    Can’t blame her. It is human nature to form a worldview that is selfish and centered around oneself, and to confuse one’s own good with the good of society.

    Thanks to the Vanguard for letting us all have an insight into this selfish and narrow minded viewpoint.

  4. My View

    I agree the salaries/perks of upper management are too steep. But that is really a separate issue from whether faculty/staff need to take furoughs/paycuts to balance the budget of UCD. The fact of the matter is UCD has a budget deficit it must address. I haven’t heard any solutions suggested by AFSCME, other than to cut Yudof’s and Katehi’s salaries. Even if you put the salaries of Katehi and Yudof to zero, it would not make a dent in the UCD deficit.

    I give credit to Yudof for instituting a graduated scale for furloughs – which is much fairer. If AFSCME and the faculty (I wonder if the faculty are really against the furlough system) are against the furlough system, then how do they suggest addressing UCD’s budget deficit beyond reducing the salary of upper management, which will not cut it? If they cannot come up w any ideas, then shut up and take the medicine for the good of the university, so it can survive in these tough economic times.

    One suggestion I do have is for the UC system to call a moratorium on all construction. A closer look needs to be taken at this orgy of spending that has gone on. The excuses given are that it is facility monies funded by private donations, bonds, already allocated monies, and the like. However, I would point out the operating expenses for these facilities doesn’t come from private donations, bonds or already allocated monies.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    “I agree the salaries/perks of upper management are too steep. But that is really a separate issue from whether faculty/staff need to take furoughs/paycuts to balance the budget of UCD. The fact of the matter is UCD has a budget deficit it must address.”

    From the other article the faculty mentioned the deficit I believe was around one percent of the operating budget for the UC, that suggests perhaps there are other ways to balance the budget. It is not Harrison’s job necessarily to come up with an alternative, her job, and remember she’s a worker herself not a staff member, but her job is to represent her fellow workers and bring attention to their concerns.

    I think this point should be also taken, Sarah told me that she caught Ms. Harrison in the airport, so I’m not sure it’s really fair to judge her based on these comments. It was a brief interview. I know people are kind of used to the exhaustive reports that I give, but Harrison probably spoke to Sarah for less than five minutes.

  6. earoberts

    “It is not Harrison’s job necessarily to come up with an alternative, her job, and remember she’s a worker herself not a staff member, but her job is to represent her fellow workers and bring attention to their concerns.”

    If she fails to come up w a viable alternative, and is also not willing for her union workers to take furloughs, then she may be faced w the unenviable position of forcing layoffs. It behooves her to either come up with alternatives or accept furloughs as a necessary evil to avoid layoffs.

  7. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]From the other article the faculty mentioned the deficit I believe was around one percent of the operating budget for the UC, that suggests perhaps there are other ways to balance the budget.[/i]

    David, that is a misreading of what George Lakoff said, and even what Lakoff intended to say is apples and oranges. What Lakoff said is that the savings from furloughs are 1% of UC’s total budget of about $19 billion. But the furloughs are less than 1/4 of the budget cut for this year. Student fees are another 1/4 or so, some money (at least on paper) will come from debt refinancing, and the rest will have to come from reducing staff operations at UCOP and the campuses. The budget cut from Sacramento is actually 4% of all operations and not 1%.

    On top of that, day-to-day academic operations are only a fraction of UC’s activities. For instance, 40% of the UC Davis budget is the medical center. A lot of money goes to construction. A lot of money goes to dorm operations. A lot of money is in the form of large federal grants for large research centers like LBL. UC can’t redirect Medicare reimbursements to teach calculus. It can’t redirect a bond-funded construction contract to teach calculus, and it can’t redirect a particle accelerator budget to teach calculus.

    You should also that this 20% cut is a coup-de-grace after years of declining funding per student. And the cut comes on top of unfunded cost increases over the next two years.

    If you look at the actual relevant operating budget for academics, and if you look at all cuts and cost increases together and not just furloughs, Yudof and the chancellors are doing what they have to do. They aren’t doing anything crazy. What the state legislature is doing is crazy, although that isn’t mostly by their choice either.

    [i]It is not Harrison’s job necessarily to come up with an alternative[/i]

    You’re exactly right about that. Harrison’s job as AFSCME local leader is to argue what she can argue for her union. Not only does she not have to find an alternative, there doesn’t have to be an alternative. She is under no obligation to give advice that makes sense, except to her union. She’s like a trial lawyer who argues a client’s case.

    For instance consider the statement that “if the UC system were already to raise fees then there is no need to have to lose workdays.” As I said, the fees increases are the furloughs each cover about 1/4 of the cut from the state. Harrison channeled that claim from a world in which 1/4 + 1/4 is more than 1. I would not consider it fair to double the student fee increase to spare the furloughs, but maybe students like Sarah Kanbar could talk me into it if Harrison persuades them.

    [url]http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/21511[/url]

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Huh: Again, you seem to be missing the point that given the circumstances of the interview it is not exactly fair to expect the full answer from Ms. Harrison.

  9. One thing People Are Forgetting

    The AFSCME workers only make like $11 or $12 an hour. Many of these workers are having to work second jobs and receive public assistance to get by. So when they have to take a 10% paycut or whatever the bottom level cut, it’s devastating. Of course Harrison has to be concerned about that. It’s literally going to cripple the people she represents. These people live paycheck to paycheck and you criticize her for focusing on that issue?

  10. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]These people live paycheck to paycheck and you criticize her for focusing on that issue?[/i]

    I wish that Harrison did focus on her union contract. It’s her job to stand up for her workers and I don’t mean that as a criticism at all. I’ve been to the AFSCME web site and I see what is says, as of just five months ago, about the contract. It says “VICTORY!!” They were thrilled with what UC gave them; they couldn’t hold back their elation. They won wage increases of 16% over the next five years. 10% of that 16% is automatic, and the other 6% depends on state funding.

    I know that AFSCME members are not well paid. I respect them for winning what they win in negotiations. I have no problem with that. What I do not like is Lakesha Harrison spreading nonsense about the rest of UC, just because her contract is a victory and she can’t think of a way to complain about it. She’s trying to weaken the people at the other end of her negotiations. But many of us depend on those people for decisions that have nothing to do with AFSCME.

    For the record, the bottom level cut — for non-unionized workers — is 4%. My cut is 8%, and that is not the top level, that is a broad level in the middle. I suspect that AFSCME is not going to get a 4% cut. I don’t know what will happen in negotiations between UC and AFSCME. But given the strength of what AFSCME got in February, and given that many AFSCME workers aren’t even paid out of the general fund that got gouged, I would be surprised if AFSCME got hit 4%.

    [i]I read somewhere that UC has a $7 billion rainy day fund, is that true?[/i]

    It’s true that an UPTE-CWA flyer says so, and a protester was quoted as repeating it on Tuesday. But the flyer is wrong. UC has an unrestricted endowment of $5.38 billion. But it would be crazy to call this year a “rainy day” and break the piggy bank just for that. That is the sort of crazy step that the legislature has been taking and that UC is not taking. The state budget and the state’s contract with UC have been getting worse for most of ten years. Next year is going to be another “rainy day” and so will the year after that. I don’t want UC to declare bankruptcy in five years.

    That does not mean that the furloughs are permanent. They are shrinking the university to fit the new reality. But they can’t shrink it all the way in just one year. When they finish reducing UC to what the state actually pays for, then they won’t need furloughs.

    [url]http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/budget/?p=608[/url]

  11. earoberts

    “Huh: Again, you seem to be missing the point that given the circumstances of the interview it is not exactly fair to expect the full answer from Ms. Harrison.”

    So when can we expect the full answer?

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