UC Pension Program Proposition Provokes Controversy From Union Members

Photo: UC Berkeley staff members ask senior administrators about the newly proposed pension model Wednesday morning at the International House.
Javier Panzar/Staff
UC Berkeley staff members ask senior administrators about the newly proposed pension model Wednesday morning at the International House.

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UC President Mark Yudof's recommendation that the UC Board of Regents adopt changes to the university's pension program has been met with approval from faculty leadership but vehement opposition from union members.

Yudof's model was originally proposed by faculty and staff members of a university task force on post-employment benefits and later modified by the president in his recommendation. This model would establish employee and employer contribution rates to the pension fund at 7 and 8.1 percent of the employee's salary, respectively, and create a new tier of the pension system for workers hired after July 1, 2013.

The regents will discuss the recommendation at their November meeting.

At a town hall meeting at UC Berkeley's International House Wednesday morning, UC Executive Vice President for Business Operations Nathan Brostrom said the proposal successfully balanced the concerns of the university's employees and should return the pension program to fully-funded status.

"If we get back to 100 percent funding in 20 or 30 years, we will be fine," he said, adding that other models were considered but ultimately rejected because they did "too much damage to the university."

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 and of the University Professional and Technical Employees Local 1 criticized the recommendation, stating that the new tier would create inequality between employees.

"Offering new hires reduced benefits is not going to benefit the university and is certainly not going to benefit students," said Tanya Smith, president of UPTE Local 1 chapter. "When you start to divide the community up ... the whole community suffers."

Yudof's plan was first revealed on Monday in a letter to university faculty and staff from systemwide Academic Senate Chair Daniel Simmons.

Yudof's recommendations are supported by the leadership of the UC Academic Senate and Council of UC Staff Assemblies and the UC's staff advisors to the Regents, according a letter by Yudof addressed to UC faculty and staff.

According to Simmons' letter, several key regents, whom he later said chaired "a couple of important committees," also support the recommendation.

Although the systemwide Academic Senate as a whole did not formally endorse Yudof's proposal at its Wednesday meeting, Vice Chair Robert Anderson said he felt confident the senate would do so at its November meeting.

Shane White, chair of the UCLA Academic Senate Faculty Welfare Committee and professor of endodontics at the UCLA School of Dentistry, said the plan was the best option to come out of a bleak scenario, but a concurrent increase in employee salaries would be necessary to maintain the university's competitiveness as a top-rate institution.

"An organization can thrive only if it is paying its employees the same as its competitors," he said. "It is inevitable if the salaries aren't competitive that we will lose the best that we've got, and we won't get the best newcomers."

Smith also cited the institution of the new tier as potentially reducing the university's ability to retain top faculty.

"If (employees) are not getting the same arrangement as people hired before them, it's just not fair," she said. "There will be more overturn in staff because there is a diminished commitment to them."

Yudof's recommendation abandons the integration of social security benefits into the calculation of a retiree's total compensation package - a facet of the task force's proposal that had generated controversy because it would result in a lower total remuneration for retirees.

Despite the relatively widespread support for the recommendation, significant obstacles to its implementation still exist. Any agreement involving union-represented employees is subject to a collective bargaining process before it can be instituted.

Javier Panzar of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Jordan Bach-Lombardo is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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