If you visit the University of California’s media page, you will see many stories about the work it is doing in such areas as technology and medical research, promoting free speech, and taking on the Trump Administration.
But a broader search quickly reveals a different side of UC — tuition hikes, oversized executive pay and bloated bureaucracy, abuse of low wage workers and outsourcing of jobs, for well-connected VIPs, and the squandering of billions of public dollars on slush funds, boondoggles and underperforming hedge funds—to name just a few.
Some have made the case that we simply need to take the good with the bad. That we should resist efforts to hold California’s most prized public institution accountable to its core public mission because it houses some Nobel Laureates and is led by an Obama Cabinet appointee.
This is not helping UC, its employees, patients, students, or California.
Last month, a San Jose Mercury News review of internal UC documents revealed that the $15/hour minimum wage plan the state’s third largest employer announced to much fanfare in 2015 was little more than a PR ploy.
It was hatched amidst a US Department of Labor investigation into allegations — including wage theft and paying workers under multiple names to skirt overtime laws–involving contractors at UC Berkeley.
The Mercury News investigation highlighted that not only are service contractors openly violating UC’s new wage policy, but also that the university is making almost no effort to enforce it.
This comes on the heels of three blistering state audits — one of which revealed that the university has been increasingly displacing its own employees in favor of no-bid private contractors who pay less, offer no benefits and often fail to generate meaningful savings for the university.
Less than a month ago, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill (SB 574) that would have guaranteed these non-temporary workers equal pay with UC employees who do the same jobs. As in each of the past three years, the University made killing Sen. Richard Lara’s “equal pay” measure its top legislative priority, even as it has professed principles like social mobility, equality and fair treatment for immigrant workers, and as it pleaded for more state funding.
Failure to address UC’s abuse of its most vulnerable low-wage workers has been rivaled only by its failure to rein in the abuses of its highest paid executives. This year, we’ve learned that ranks of high paid administrators have exploded to a level that dwarfs that of public university peers, while shelling out half million dollar parachutes to disgraced ex-chancellors.
Last year, we heard about UC executives supplementing million dollar public paychecks with moonlighting activities that conflict with their public roles, even as the UC Regents rubber stamped a so-called pension reform that will actually provide these UC elites with even richer benefits, while imposing cuts on its lower paid frontline workers.
In his SB 574 veto message, Brown lauded the intention of addressing contract worker abuse and lamented executive compensation that he said was “far beyond what the average Californian would think is reasonable.” But sadly, both persist.
Like democracy itself, a public university is only as strong as our willingness to fight to make it better. This does not require us to throw out UC’s attributes. It compliments them and reaffirms our core public mission rooted in building pathways to the middle class.
If we fail to act, we will only succeed in transforming the nation’s leading public institution into a national monument to income inequality. And there can only be one Trump University.
Kathryn Lybarger is president of AFSCME Local 3299, the University of California’s largest employee union, which represents more than 24,000 frontline service and patient care workers.