UCSA Discusses UC Audit, Student Hunger and Housing Insecurity

By Eliza Partika

The University of California Student Association (UCSA) held a board meeting last Saturday to address concerns regarding the recent state audit of the UC, and discuss legislative actions that the UCSA would like to address to the State Capital. UCSA’s high-priority issues to address in lobbying discussions included consumer financial protection for student loan payers, simplifying the FAFSA, assisting DACA and undocumented students, allowing graduate students to qualify for unsubsidized loans, and student hunger and housing insecurity.

 A primary concern of the board was support for undocumented students and students who may have been affected by President Trump’s travel ban earlier this year. Some of UCSA’s goals include greater support for undocumented student and immigrant student mental health, and “best practices” to support specific case-by-case issues that arise for students. These best practices include a resolution to create an early-warning system to alert undocumented students of any ICE activity on campus and the creation of “Know Your Rights” cards, which are meant to teach undocumented immigrants their rights if they are threatened with deportation by law enforcement or border control officers.

 The majority of the meeting was spent discussing the ramifications of the recent UC audit on both students and staff on all nine undergraduate campuses.

The discovery of $175 million in undisclosed funds has spurred continued discussion about the possibilities of affordable student housing for all students. UC Berkeley has taken steps to increase affordability by building less expensive student housing models on land leased from the University, which is significantly lower than market value. To many students, this is something all campuses should be attempting. Many hoped to communicate with President Napolitano about the use some of the undisclosed funding for pressing student issues like affordable housing.    

   The University’s step system determines wages of their employees, whereby each employee is given a salary based on the “step” they are placed on in a predetermined wage chart. Employees in this system cannot earn wages outside of the brackets that are predetermined by the step system.

“With the  step system you ahave a minimum and a maximum but no vessel to travel within wages,” Luster Howard, a member of the bargaining team working for worker rights, said.

The constraints of the step system were exacerbated two weeks ago, when the  UC passed a proposal that had zero wage increases for service workers.

“Basically what they had said is we would stay within our step system. If you are at the top of your section, then oh well. You stay there,”  Howard said.  The zero wage increase came the day after the audit found $175 million dollars in undisclosed funds, as well as  frozen benefits in the last work contract.

Maricruz Manzanarez, the other representative from the bargaining team, described how the UC hires third-party temporary workers who do not enjoy the same benefits or rights as career workers, and are regularly subjected to “deplorable” working conditions and can be subjected to such crimes as sexual assault while on the job.  

“If they  stand up for their rights, the next day they are gone, so we are trying to get some language to protect those workers in their contract and the UC is demanding that we get rid of some of that language that protects workers in our contract,” Manzanarez said.

Currently, the University requires limited workers to work 1000 hours to have enough seniority to become career workers with benefits, but they are proposing to increase the required hours to around 2000 hours.

“Their excuse is that because we are training those workers, the time will elapse that will allow them to become  careers within their department,” Manzanarez said, arguing that this is a lie, because there is transfer promotional language in the contract that allows people with more seniority to transfer to higher positions. The bargaining committee is proposing that workers only be required 500 hours to become career workers.

“We think [1000 hours] is a long time without protection and without any rights,” Manzanarez said.

At the Regents meeting on May 17, Howard and Manzanarez will be advocating for their bill, SB574, which will protect contracted workers when the UC deals with third party companies.

The bill will address poor working conditions and safety concerns, like those of workers at UC Berkeley who are allegedly being forced to work through their lunch breaks without pay. If passed, the bill would ensure that temporary workers are offered the same wages as career workers for the same jobs.

“We know [UCOP] has enough money [to support us],” Howard said, supporting the assertion of the audit that UCOP could be using its funding to benefit workers on all campuses, as well as the pertinent student housing and hunger crises, and it could resolve the gross exploitation of workers in the UC system.

Howard suggested the criminality of UCOP’s actions, citing Enlace: Organizing for Racial and Economic Justice’s findings that the UC supports organizations that fund mass-incarceration of minority groups.

GEO Group (GEO) and Corrections Corporation America (CCA) are the largest for-profit prisons that are driving the mass incarceration of people of color in America. These two companies have successfully lobbied for policies that leave black and brown bodies behind bars, with our tax dollars paying private companies to keep them there.  The UC system is financially supporting these corporations since the UC Regents are invested in Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Lazard, Blackrock Inc., and Morgan Stanley, all of which own over two-thirds of CCA and GEO,” according to Enlace’s 2013 article, The University of California Invests in Prisons.

“All of these issues are connected to the lack of accountability and oversight [of the $175 million],” Howard said of the UCOP. In the Open Session of the UC Regents meeting at UCSF Mission Bay on May 17, the UCSA and the bargaining committee hope to address these pressing topics.