Berdahl Apologizes to Workers

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Apologizing to staff members for overwhelming work and low salaries, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl yesterday committed $1 million to reduce workloads and forge a "new relationship between staff and administration."

In a speech before the Berkeley Staff Assembly, Berdahl admitted that the university faces a myriad of problems in attracting staff.

"I truly agree that compensation is not in many cases adequate, and that the reason that many people come to work here, for a decent balance between work and the rest of life, is not a reason anymore," Berdahl said. "And I know that we have to do better at empowering people and rather than micromanaging we need to let those that know best be free to make intelligent and informed decisions."

The university, Berdahl said, will now devote $1 million to increasing the number of employees and decreasing workloads in critical areas on campus. The money will hire retirees to fill vacant supervisory positions and provide training for specialized positions.

In addition, the chancellor announced the formation of the Compensation Advisory Committee, which will help restructure the campus-wide compensation and job evaluation system by the end of the spring semester.

"It really broke new ground," said Renate Valencia, a staff assembly member. "It was very candid and addressed the questions directly. I would like to see some details about the proposals, and we'll certainly be looking to see what the effects of the programs will be."

Low wages have been a constant complaint of staff over the past few years. Led by the Coalition of University Employees union, staffers have protested that moderate UC wage increases do not keep pace with the growing cost of living in the Bay Area.

While employees were impressed with the chancellor's frankness, his proposed reforms seemed to fall short of the mark, said Elinor Levine, president of the union.

"It sounds like a human resources management initiative to put people into broad salary bands," she said, adding that the union supported across-the-board wage increases and merit pay rather than a full restructuring.

Staff are unclear as to how many new positions the $1 million will create, Levine said.

Union members have been conducting a rolling hunger strike for several months. Some sported "Fridays We Work for Free" t-shirts at the meeting, and gave one to Berdahl.

"I really do 'get it,'" Berdahl said. "I very much understand how urgently we need to make changes."

Referring to the Berkeley Financial Systems, a new online accounting service that has caused problems for the staff who use it, the chancellor said the system did need some changes but that staff would need to learn to work better with it.

"All the clericals on campus know what a problem the Berkeley Financial Systems have been," Levine said. "I don't think anyone was encouraged by his statement."

Berdahl also addressed the problem of staff recruitment and retention. He said the university is contracting with an Internet firm to advertise openings and hire people online, speeding up the recruitment process. He also announced a system of incentives for employees who recruit new employees and an end to the salary cap for reclassified employees.

"Many of you asked how to be more supported in your work," he said, referring to training. "We need to rely on your expertise rather than stifle it. I also know that as you are allowed to develop your skills, you are happier and more fulfilled in your jobs."


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