Cleaning up UC's mess - Page 2

Low-wage University of California workers live in poverty while top executives get big bonuses

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Arnold Meza doesn't make enough to support his family as a custodian at UC Berkeley.
PHOTO BY MAGGIE BEIDELMAN

Some UC executives, such as UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, receive additional retirement perks. Roughly 200 highly paid UC executives receive a supplemental retirement benefit of 5 percent of their annual pay, said Nikki Fortunato Bas, the executive director of EBASE. That's a total annual cost to UC of $4 million.

"If UC gets its way in 2011, instead of getting to climb that next rung on the ladder out of poverty, [the low wage workers] will take a step backward through a combination of increased contributions to retirement and healthcare and UC withholding a 3 percent raise," Bas said. "All the while, UC is showering already highly-paid executives with six-figure bonuses."

In an infamous budget battle that has required the UC system to restructure its quickly diminishing funding from the state, more than 100,000 employees' paychecks have been reduced while top execs like UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center CEO David Feinberg receive thousands of dollars in bonuses. In September 2010, Feinberg's base pay was increased by 22 percent and he received a $250,000 "retention bonus," for a total compensation of $1.33 million.

These astounding numbers, as part of a $3.1 million package in bonuses for 37 UC executives last September, were quoted in the EBASE report, using data from the UC Regents website (www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents).

UCOP says the retention bonuses are necessary "because we pay below market as it is [for top executives' salaries]," said Klein, and the UC needs to offer huge bonuses to keep the executives from moving to higher paying universities. "You have two options: sayonara or we'll match it," Klein said. "You can't recruit in the classifieds for these people ... and you'll have to replace them for the same money, anyway."

The bonuses are not state-funded, said Klein, but are taken from research grants, patient care, and even federal funding. But Bas said the problem is with UC's priorities: "Time and again, they have shown that they can find money to give bonuses or backfill sports programs," she said. "UC may look at this as a matter of technicalities, but we cannot ignore the stories of employees and their families who are struggling to get by."

As it stands, UC is short-staffed when it comes to service workers. "We've been short-staffed for the last 10 years," said Meza, who estimates that UC Berkeley employs about 140 custodians, less than one-third of the 460 or so custodians the university employed in the 1980s. The result is that the students suffer, said Meza. "The students are getting the short end of the stick because we can only clean once a week in some classrooms because we're short staff. We see the students pay a lot with tuition, and they're getting less."

Already, student fees have increased by more than 32 percent, and another 8 percent fee increase is pending, reported EBASE. As the state continues to make cuts, students and low wage service workers suffer the consequences.

According to the California Budget Project, a single-parent family needs to make $68,375 a year just to make ends meet in Alameda County. "UC workers have reduced-cost healthcare, so this number could be adjusted downward to $58,544," said Bas. "For a custodian at UC Berkeley or UC San Francisco making $30,000 or even $40,000 a year, this means working two jobs and collecting cans just to scrape by."

When his oldest was nine years old, Meza remembers, he used to drive his family to the recycling center to get cash for cans he had taken out of the garbage. "The kids were happy in the car because I was going to get money for food when I recycled cans," which meant there would be dinner on the table that night, Meza said, apologizing for getting teary-eyed at the memory.

"I just don't want people who work here to go through what I went through to raise a family," he said.

Comments

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2011 @ 10:31 am

RE: “Cleaning up UC's mess”, by Maggie Beidelman

While I share the Guardians disgust at UC execs pulling in six-figure incomes and justifying this with cries that such largess is required to retain the best and brightest, I am less thrilled with the analysis on the economic plight of janitor Arnold Meza who is depicted as struggling as a single father to provide for four children. It may be a human right to have as many children as you want, but it is not an intelligent choice to father so many kids on a janitor’s salary - even the $40,000 plus health care and retirement benefits he brings home.

One can only ask: had he had eight children would he have earned twice the Guardian’s sympathy?

Posted by WandaBerger on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

Wanda Berger,

Since when is it okay to form lifestyle restrictions on the blue collar workers of America? Shall we force him to live in a one bedroom house, ban him from shopping for a new car, or tattoo his arm so he cannot purchase jeans more than $20 a pair? It's not at all okay to victimize the staff of UC who merely want to pursue a life dream, which is to have a family. Arnold Meza is a brave man who (as hard as it is for you to believe) does not live in China where there are restrictions on how many children you have, depending on how much money you have. What I am saying is: your point is not remotely relevant to this article.

Yes, statistically the Hispanic population is the fastest growing and the least educated, but guess what: the nation's youth is now a majority Hispanic, meaning this country in a few odd decades will be a largely Hispanic country. If you and others don't stop the prejudiced "it's their fault, they brought this on themselves" argument which has a smattering of racism, you will soon find yourself in a minority.

There is more to life than economic decisions. He made the intelligent choice of having a family, which is far more important than squeezing a penny here or there. He works hard and is not asking for an increase in pay, per se, he is asking to keep pace with the other employees at UC who have appropriately adjusted incomes every year to cope with the financial burdens, and have a proper staff to be sure that they aren't overworked.

Arnold Meza has a family to raise. If he had eight kids to raise then he has eight kids to raise then so be it, nobody has the right to tell him otherwise, at least not in America.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

RE: “Cleaning up UC's mess”, by Maggie Beidelman

While I share the Guardians disgust at UC execs pulling in six-figure incomes and justifying this with cries that such largess is required to retain the best and brightest, I am less thrilled with the analysis on the economic plight of janitor Arnold Meza who is depicted as struggling as a single father to provide for four children. It may be a human right to have as many children as you want, but it is not an intelligent choice to father so many kids on a janitor’s salary - even the $40,000 plus health care and retirement benefits he brings home.

One can only ask: had he had eight children would he have earned twice the Guardian’s sympathy?

Posted by WandaBerger on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

(The author has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at UC Berkeley (Cal) where he observed the culture & way senior management work)

Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) has forgotten that he is a public servant, steward of the public money, not overseer of his own fiefdom (these are not isolated examples): recruits (uses California tax $) out of state $50,000 tuition students that displace qualified Californians from public university education; spends $7,000,000 + for consultants to do his & many vice chancellors jobs (prominent East Coast university accomplishing same 0 cost); pays ex Michigan governor $300,000 for lectures; in procuring a $3,000,000 consulting firm he failed to receive proposals from other firms; Latino enrollment drops while out of state jumps 2010; tuition to Return on Investment drops below top 10; Breslauer all employees meeting – only 50 attend; visits to Cal down 20%; NCAA places basketball program on probation, absence institutional control.

It’s all shameful. There is no justification for such practices by a steward of the public trust. Absolutely none.

Birgeneau’s practices will not change. UC Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing and President Yudof must do a better job of vigorously enforcing oversight than has been done in the past over Chancellors who, like Birgeneau, see the campus as their fiefdom.

Posted by Milan Moravec on Jun. 25, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

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