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University employment practices hindering economic mobility for women of color

(OAKLAND, CA) – An analysis of previously unreleased employment data at the University of California reveals growing income inequality, persistent patterns of racial and gender hierarchy, and steep declines in African American employment within the university’s workforce.

Read the Report: “Pioneering Inequality: Income, Racial and Gender Inequality at the University of California,” click here to download.

Commissioned by the University’s largest employee union—AFSCME Local 3299—the study reviewed years of UC payroll and employee demographic data to assess how hiring and labor practices at the state’s 3rd largest employer are impacting economic mobility for the most disadvantaged communities in California.

“A taxpayer supported public university system is not the place where we should expect to see exploding wage gaps, blacks disappearing from the workforce, and an opportunity ladder that seems to prize white males above all others,” said study co-author Owen Li. “But that is precisely what is happening at UC—and the trends appear to be getting worse, not better.”

Overall, the study found that between 2005 and 2015, the ratio between average salaries for UC’s top 1% of wage earners and all other employees grew from 7:1 to 9:1, with pay for top administrators rising 64%.

But beneath the broad pattern of rising income inequality at UC lie deeper demographic trends.

In addition to the under-representation of women and people of color within UC’s top administrative ranks, a case study of UC’s lowest paid and most diverse workforce segment—AFSCME 3299 represented service and patient care workers—reveals that average starting wages for women and people of color are as much as 21% less than whites and men. The study notes that these trends are consistent across all UC campuses.

“This important and well-documented study shines a bright spotlight on troubling employment and compensation patterns disadvantaging many workers employed at the campuses of the University of California,” said Dr. James Stewart, Professor Emeritus of Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State University. “The findings are consistent with state-wide trends identified at the recent ‘State of Black California’ hearings organized by the California Legislative Black Caucus in February.”

Pioneering Inequality notes that black women employed at UC are facing the greatest wage disparities. Among patient care workers, average starting wages for black women are 23% (almost $16,000/year) lower than white men. Among service workers, black women earn 10% (almost $4,000/year) less to start on average than white men.

The report also finds that blacks are disappearing from UC’s workforce. The share of African Americans employed as UC service and patient care workers dropped by 37% between 1996 and 2015. The data suggests that these workers are being outsourced, with campus surveys showing that low-wage contractors at UC working for outsourcing companies are more likely to be African Americans. Other recent studies show that in addition to receiving considerably lower wages and fewer benefits than career workers who do the same jobs, outsourced workers also face higher risk of illegal abuses like wage theft.

“There’s a growing public will to address conditions that have historically stifled progress for disadvantaged communities,” commented Alice Huffman, President of California State Conference NAACP. “But as calls to close gaps in social and economic disparities grow stronger, employers get more creative. Outsourcing work to so-called ‘independent contractors’ is just the latest trick to exclude women and people of color from progress.”

UC responded to past criticism of outsourcing (which UC’s own numbers estimate at approximately 7,000 jobs), and high profile cases of contractor abuse by enacting a system-wide minimum wage in 2015. However UC’s internal audits have recently shown that policy is not being enforced.

“In reality, all UC’s minimum wage has done is to more firmly institutionalize the patterns of inequality highlighted in this report,” Li added. “Disadvantaged communities who used to have access to middle-class jobs at UC are now seeing smaller paychecks, fewer benefits, and less stability as outsourced workers.”

As these last middle-class jobs continue to disappear at UC, the University has taken to the legislature to lobby for more funding—which has raised concerns over the use tax dollars in the accelerating of outsourcing trends at UC. “The State of California must work with UC to ensure that taxpayer dollars create opportunity not just for students but also for its workers,” noted Claudio Fogu and Susette Min, Co-Vice Presidents of External Relations at the Council of UC Faculty Associations.

The report offers a number of recommendations to close wage gaps and to expand employment and career advancement for disadvantaged communities. This includes a call for greater legislative oversight, new diversity hiring and training initiatives, the promotion of wage parity and both transparency and equity related reforms to UC outsourcing practices.

“The recommendations offered in ‘Race, Gender, and Income Disparities at the University of California’ are carefully designed and can serve as a solid framework for policymakers to employ in serious efforts to reduce employment disparities within the UC system,” Dr. Stewart concluded.