AFSCME Report Alleges UC Gender and Racial Hiring Bias

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UC’s largest employee union released a study last week that found “growing income inequality, persistent patterns of racial and gender hierarchy, and steep declines in African American employment within the university’s workforce.” The report, “Pioneering Inequality: Income, Racial and Gender Inequality at the University of California,” analyzed previously unreleased employment data from the UC, the state’s third-largest employer and recommended that the university use the findings to “do more to combat inequality within its ranks.”

According to the study, between 2005 and 2015, the income gap between UC’s highest-paid and lowest-paid workers increased significantly, with top administrator salaries growing by 64 percent. These highest-paid employees include a higher proportion of whites and men than the State of California, while the UC’s lowest-paid employees are primarily women and people of color. Across all UC campuses, starting wages for women are as much as $2 per hour less than men, and Black and Latinx workers earn starting wages of about 20 percent lower on average than white workers. Black women face the greatest wage disparities in the UC; on average, they make $16,000 less each year than white men as patient care workers, and $4,000 less as service workers.

The study also reported a “disappearance” of Black workers; from 1996 to 2015, the number of Black UC service and patient care workers dropped from 19 percent to 12 percent. However, the study suggests that Black workers are overrepresented as contractors — UC workers who do not receive the same benefits and pay as employees, despite often working for the university long-term and full-time.

The UC currently employs over 7,000 contractors, many of whom have replaced full-time employees, a practice for which the UC was criticized by a recent California State Audit. Despite UC President Janet Napolitano’s 2015 decision to raise the UC minimum wage to $15, contractors are still excluded from receiving many of the same benefits as their counterparts with employee status. According to Owen Li, the study’s co-author, the UC has used this loophole to hire the same workers for lower wages and fewer benefits.

“In reality, all UC’s minimum wage has done is more firmly institutionalize the patterns of inequality highlighted in this report,” Li said in a statement. 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. But that is precisely what is happening at UC — and the trends appear to be getting worse, not better.”

The study recommends that the UC preserve low-paying jobs for people of color, but treat them as “ladders to the middle class” by providing more opportunities for advancement. It also urges UC to address the issues faced by outsourced and contracted workers, “including hiring them directly or guaranteeing them equal pay with career employees who do the same job.”

UC administration, however, “can confirm neither the accuracy of the figures nor the conclusions contained in AFSCME’s report,” since the UC does “not know how the union arrived at its information,” said UC spokesperson Claire Doan in a statement.

“We take issues of fairness and equitable treatment seriously, have mechanisms in place to respond to these types of issues, and follow appropriate Equal Employment Opportunity policies,” Doan wrote. “We encourage any employee who believes he or she is being treated unfairly to bring their concerns to the attention of the proper UC office so that they may be addressed quickly. The diversity of university’s workforce is one of its greatest strengths. UC is committed to recognizing and nurturing talent, dedication, and achievement by supporting diversity and equal opportunity.”  

AFSCME Local 3299 is spearheading actions to promote the study’s findings. On April 4, after the study’s release and on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, hundreds of UC students and workers gathered at the UC Berkeley and UCLA campuses to protest the disparities affecting low-wage UC workers. Eighteen people were arrested during the protests, and AFSCME Local 3299 called for a strike vote regarding their new contract, which they hope will address some of the inequalities alleged by the study. Union workers will vote on April 17 and 18 to authorize a strike against stalled negotiations for their new contract, which has been in the works for over a year.

“Sadly, the University of California continues to be a monument to the struggle [for dignity and respect that workers continue to wage across our country],” wrote AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger, “with women and people of color in particular facing staggering levels of inequality at work.”

According to Monica DeLeon, vice president of the union’s patient care unit, “When the state’s third-largest, publicly funded employer fails to meet the standards of fairness and equality, it’s our duty and responsibility to hold them accountable.”

Update: A response by a University of California spokesperson has been included. Additionally, a former version of this article stated that UC President Napolitano’s Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan does not apply to contractors; however, contractors working more than 20 hours per week do qualify for the same $15 minimum wage as fully employed workers. 

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