The new pension plan going into effect this July will place an unfair financial burden on UC employees. As students who see the hard work of these workers firsthand, we should support workers in the protest.
United under the same mission, protests across all 10 UC campuses took place last week in objection to the proposed pay and pension changes for UC employees. While those at the top of the UC system will receive six-figure pensions, those at the bottom will now have to pay more of their salary to receive poverty-level payments after retirement. The culprit? A need to generate $24 billion to fund the pension program. The UC system needs to crunch the numbers again to come up with a more sustainable and fair pension plan.
The new UC pension reform plan was approved in 2010 and will go into effect this July. The plan requires that current workers contribute 6.5 percent of their paycheck for each pay period, and new employees hired after July 1 contribute 7 percent per paycheck. According to the AFSCME Local 3299 union, this will be the equivalent of a $2.70 per hour pay cut. Not only is this a large amount of money to take out of every paycheck, but this also won’t set UC employees up for a comfortable retirement. After working for the UC system for 20 years, the average worker receives a $19,000 pension annually. To put a further financial burden on workers is irresponsible, as it essentially passes off the UC system’s financial problems on those living paycheck-to-paycheck.
With the UC system’s financial system in dire straits and enrollment rates steadily increasing, each campus has the smallest possible number of workers doing the maximum amount of work to ensure efficiency. This new pension plan puts additional pressure on the workers, which will likely lead to more turnover and general discontent on campuses. Many jobs on UC campuses are strenuous, and some even involve exposure to harmful chemicals due to the high level of sanitation needed in medical centers according to Marcos Jimenez, a union representative for the University Professional and Technical Employees Union. These employees need to be highly valued for their work, and increasing their pension payments only compounds the challenges of the jobs.
Amid these protests, union leaders have pointed to the high salaries and pensions of top UC executives. While UC President Mark G. Yudof, who will be stepping down in August, will receive an annual $230,000 pension, executives like him should not be painted as the enemy. This pension plan is set across the board, and it affects those with an average salary of $30,000 the most because that group makes up the huge majority of the UC employees. According to UC spokesperson Shelly Meron, a pension like Yudof’s comprises less than half a percent of the expenses the UC retirement plan is slated to spend on benefits for current employees. These executive salaries are only a small part of the much bigger financial crisis that the UC system is in, and therefore, bigger reforms need to be made rather than slimming down executive pensions.
The UC system must make it a priority to put funding towards worker pensions. As students who see the results of the work UC employees put into our campuses firsthand, it is important that we support those who make UCSD a functioning, thriving and enjoyable place to be. Those who feel strongly should support the protests and show appreciation to the UC employees who work so we can learn.