At UC, a Wider Wage Gap Divides Top from Bottom

Unionized employees at UC campuses are paid less than their counterparts in the California State University and California community colleges, according to a study released by one of the unions representing them.

Custodians’ wages in the UC system are 14 to 26 percent lower than CSU pay for similar positions and 23 to 25 percent lower than community college wages, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which organizes approximately 18,000 custodians, patient-care and food-service workers in the UC system. In addition, the average maximum salary of custodians is $13.54 per hour, while CSU and community college custodians are paid respective average hourly wages of $18.34 and $17.59, the report stated.

In contrast, the study reported that UC President Robert C. Dynes earned more than $423,666 in compensation last fiscal year, compared to the $355,692 earned by CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed and $245,484 earned by community colleges Chancellor Mark Drummond.

The study is the newest critical look at the university’s pay practices, which began with a San Francisco Chronicle article reporting that the university paid out more than $870 million last year in bonuses.

“It is distressing to see so much focus on executive pay when so many UC workers and their families are struggling daily just to survive,” union Local 3299 spokeswoman Celine Perez stated in an e-mail. “We want the regents to place the same amount of focus and energy to the pay of workers as they have for the executives.”

Approximately $7 million of that pot went to high-tier executives. Following the article, the UC Board of Regents expressed concern over the transparency of the university’s compensation methods.

“The current policies are difficult, unclear, divergent and unorganized,” Regent Judith Hopkinson said at a regents meeting in January.

Since then, the board has created a task force to explore pay policies, called for a systemwide audit and pledged to overhaul compensation practices.

The study may seem damning, but it used salary figures from the 2004-05 fiscal year, and did not include wage increases implemented in November, when the Board of Regents approved a plan to bring all employees’ salaries to competitive market levels within 10 years, according to UC spokesman Noel Van Nyhuis.

“UC has already begun, in earnest, to study the total remuneration (salary, health benefits, retirement) given to all employees,” he stated in an e-mail. “The comparisons AFSCME make are inappropriate and UC is using information from an objective outside source for the audit. We hope to have the audit completed in the next month or so.”

The university’s own study, conducted by an outside consulting firm, found that the university generally matches comparable market levels in total compensation when employee health and retirement benefits are factored in, Van Nyhuis stated. Nevertheless, the state is conducting its own audit of the university, and the state Senate Higher Education Subcommittee will have a hearing about university pay policies this week. A petition, signed by more than 2,000 union workers, calls on legislators to use the study to examine the difference of pay between top executives and other employees.

AFSCME’s data could give unions an extra bargaining chip in negotiations with the university, which made tentative deals with four separate unions in December. AFSCME is in the process of beginning talks with the university about benefits and pensions, according to Perez.

“The executive pay scandal has made most of us, including managers, furious,” said Jorge Olvera, the vice president of the service unit for AFSCME Local 3299 and a UCSD groundskeeper. “We came to UC because it was the best place to work for and that if we invested in it, it would invest in us. Now the UC is like Wal-Mart, trying to make the most money it can for its executives at the cost of our families.”

Some of the December agreements, however, came after long and bitter talks. Year-long negotiations between the California Nurses Association and the university were peppered with accusations that the UC system was helping carry out Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political agenda against its own employees. The university, however, will refuse to bow to any union using the study as leverage, according to Van Nyhuis.

“UC’s bargaining record clearly demonstrates that the university negotiates in good faith with the unions of represented UC employees,” he stated. “Any negotiations for our employees are to be focused solely on the terms and conditions of employment of those in particular bargaining units. Anything outside of that is beyond the scope of bargaining and would only hinder the goal of reaching agreements for our employees.”