Year-Long UC Furlough Program Ends

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Tuesday marked the final possible day for University of California non-union faculty and staff to take a furlough day, ending a controversial year-long program designed to save the university money after draconian reductions in state funding.

While both UC Berkeley and university officials acknowledged the difficulties furloughs - mandatory days taken without pay - presented to employees, the program completed its intended goal, with savings of almost $30 million for the campus and savings for the university expected to arrive close to the projected amount.

The UC Board of Regents approved the furlough program on July 16 in response to statewide reductions in funding. The board projected savings totaling $184 million for the university - a quarter of the approximately $637 million reduction.

Faculty and staff subject to the program took between 11 and 26 furlough days, resulting in 4 to 10 percent pay reductions on a sliding scale according to salary. Furlough days were scheduled in conjunction with campus closure days to retain scheduled teaching days.

Kevin Padian, coordinating council member of the SAVE the University faculty group and UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, said most faculty members opted not to take furlough days because of substantial workloads.

"We already work 80 hours a week," he said. "If we go home for a day, nobody does our job - it's still there when we come back."

Working during furlough days was a common practice for faculty throughout the year in order to stay competitive and demonstrate competence, according to David Card, UC Berkeley professor of economics.

"We had to teach the same number of classes, and there is no provision for a reduced pace of work in review and promotion decisions," he said in an e-mail. "Any faculty member who took time off would be penalized when it came time for review of her or his work over the previous period."

According to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer, there are no plans to reinstitute the furloughs in the future, and September paychecks will revert to full pay levels.

However, furloughs took a significant financial toll, especially on those faculty and staff paid the least, according to Fiona Doyle, chair of the campus division of the Academic Senate.

"With a university salary scale that is well below market value to start with, furloughs made us even less competitive," she said in an e-mail.

Despite hardships for faculty, campuswide faculty retention rates did not suffer significantly due to the furloughs, according to Breslauer.

Staff and faculty representatives had asked the regents to implement furloughs rather than straight pay cuts in order to keep full retirement benefits, which would have been reduced proportionally with salaries, according to Padian.

However, retirement benefits will still suffer as a result of decreased retirement contributions. After a 20-year contribution freeze, UC employees were required to begin contributing 2 percent of their salaries to the UC Retirement Plan in April. An estimated $10 million less was projected to be contributed into the plan from April 15 to Aug. 31 because of salaries reduced by furloughs, according to the UC Office of the President.

As the furlough program comes to an end, budget woes continue to plague the UC system. According to UC spokesperson Steve Montiel, the university will now focus on long-term savings efforts through an administrative efficiency initiative aimed to save $500 million annually in the next seven years. Additionally, the university will continue to lobby the state.

"The main effort on the revenue side is to do everything we can with advocacy to persuade the Legislature to make higher education a funding priority," he said.


Contact Alisha Azevedo at [email protected]

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