Legislators Back Initiative to Reform UC Pension Board

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Last week, legislative leaders and UC workers announced a ballot initiative to reform the management of the university's pension plan by allowing employees to sit on the governing board of the fund.

The initiative was announced a day before the UC Board of Regents gave final approval for a new funding policy of the UC Retirement Plan, requiring employee contributions to the pension fund for the first time since 1990.

Under the new policy, contributions to the fund will restart next July. The starting levels of employee contributions are not finalized, UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz said.

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, are behind the ballot initiative, which seeks to give UC workers a voice in the management of their pension plan.

Supporters are pushing for the initiative to be on either the 2009 or the 2010 ballot, said Adam Keigwin, spokesperson for Yee.

If the initiative is passed, it will provide shared governance, giving employees the chance to have a say in the management of their pension like other state employees, supporters say.

"Unlike all other public employees, UC workers don't have a seat at the table," Keigwin said. "It is inherently unfair and not transparent."

In response to prior pension reform efforts, the university proposed a new advisory structure, which would feature designated seats on the advisory board for union representatives, Schwartz said.

Currently, employee representatives sit on the advisory board. However, they are elected and no seats are designated for union representatives.

With pension contributions restarting in less than a year, employee participation in managing the fund is needed now more than ever, said Lakesha Harrison, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents UC workers.

Although workers have not contributed to their pensions, they have been paying into a separate, mandatory retirement plan since the 90s, she said.

"The university hasn't paid into any fund for the past 18 years ... while, in essence, the workers never stopped paying," Harrison said.

According to Schwartz, workers will get back all funds they contribute into the separate retirement plan, including earnings and interest.

Due to a large surplus, both the employees and the university stopped contributing to the pension fund in 1990, but the recent financial downturn has decreased the surplus, he said.

For workers, this depletion creates greater incentive to promote employee involvement and transparency in the fund's management, Harrison said.

"The workers have more of a vested interest in the fund," she said. "We want the pension fund to be healthy and we want a say in how it's managed to make sure it stays funded."


Kelly Fitzpatrick covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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