Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Layoff Yudof!"

by David Hubbert

“Layoff Yudof!” is not a sympathetic appeal to opponents of the controversial President of the University of California (UC) to go easy on him. These words are a call to arms that I first heard being chanted on September 24th, 2009 by protesters of Mark Yudof's recently proposed budget cuts. Amongst the megaphones, microphones and various groups donned in matching t-shirts, a group of five women in a “semi-circle” watched closely. They weren't curious onlookers, people passing time betwixt classes, or nosy journalism students; they were matching t-shirt people; a team. The woman in the middle is the President of the Coalition for University Employees (CUE) UCI local 9, Dianna Sahhar.

CUE is somewhat unique as far as unions go, being that a majority of its membership are women, most of whom make less than $40K per year. According to Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, as quoted on the Washington Post's website ( Salary Stats: Women vs. Men by Maureen McCarty), women typically made 20% less than their male counterparts in 2007. These are the people Yudof wants his money to come from. Well, them and the notoriously affluent UC student body, most of whom turned down Yale due fondness of fair weather. Here is what Dianna had to say in response to my questions:

David Hubbert: What was the earliest warning that you were given by the UC system that there would be furloughs and temporary lay-offs?

Dianna Sahhar: It was when I read the minutes from the July 14th, 2009 UC Regents meeting on their website. I read the agenda items and noticed Standing Order 100.4, which would
give Yudof the power to declare a state of fiscal emergency.
DH: When were you first officially notified that these cost-saving measures would be imposed?

DS: Well, we (the union) asked them exactly what their plans were and we got no reply. It wasn't until the end of July, early August that they said they were going to begin a furlough program. They gave employees a “choice” between joining the START program where they voluntarily cut their hours by a minimum of 5%, but their benefit still accrue at the full rate or they would just be “temporarily laid off.”

DH: What exactly is a temporary layoff?

DS: It's when the employees are forced to take eleven to sixteen days off without pay. But here's the thing about that – they are breaking it up into five-day segments so that the employees are ineligible for unemployment. Employment Development Department (California State unemployment office) requires a 7 day waiting period. So you have to apply on the first day, wait seven days, and then you get pay for the remaining days. So, an employee given an eleven day temporary lay-off would really only get 4 days of paid unemployment (even if they were eligible for it).

DH: And how has your membership responded to the choices given to them by the UC?

DS: People are freaking out. We get calls all day long from scared employees who are afraid they're going to lose their jobs, some of them begging us to take the furlough offer. But we have to explain to them that Yudof wants to cut our pay by what amounts to $230 or $250 a month. Most of our members make less than $40k a year, so we're talking about a lot of money to these people. Yudof talks about how he's taken his own pay cut, but so what? I mean the guy makes $80k a month, big deal. These cuts for our members means trying to figure out where their grocery, rent or day care money is going to come from, not if they can still afford a gardener.

DH: Has CUE proposed an alternative plan to the furlough program?

DS: Well, they asked us to present a plan, but the UC still hasn't provided us with the data that we need to come up with one. It's been three or four months now since we requested these documents. But then again, there are requests for documents regarding the UC's finances that were made three years ago that they still haven't answered.

DH: Do you think the recent raise in tuition will help out the university employees?

DS: No, because we only get about 4% of our funding from tuition fees.

DH: Where do you think the extra tuition money is going?

DS: I honestly don't know. The UC regents voted for an executive pay increase, totaling $389 million in November of 2008. Yudof makes $80K a month, gets an $11K a month housing allowance, and an $8K a month travel allowance. Somehow they manged to pay $1M for security for Michelle Obama to deliver a six and a half minute speech in Merced. You tell me where that money is going.

DH: How do you think this will all turn out for your union members and other employees?

DS: We will prevail. We have already filed a complaint with the Public Employees Review Board for unfair labor practices, and I think they're going to side with us. Because you can't say that offering us a “choice” between a furlough package and forced temporary lay-offs is a fair choice. It's the same thing. And hopefully those who are laid off will get retroactive pay with penalty interest, too.

DH: You're alone in an elevator with Mark Yudof, what do you say to him?

DS: You need to leave. Cut your salary by 60% and the rest of the executives' salaries by 25% if you want to stay.

DH: Dianna, thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.

DS: You're welcome, no problem.

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