UC underpays contract workers, state audit finds

On Aug. 31, 2015, several dozen students, workers and community members marched to various locations on the UC Berkeley campus and in the city of Berkeley, delivering petitions calling for the insourcing of all subcontracted employees on campus.
Michael Wan/File
On Aug. 31, 2015, several dozen students, workers and community members marched to various locations on the UC Berkeley campus and in the city of Berkeley, delivering petitions calling for the insourcing of all subcontracted employees on campus.

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In a report released Tuesday, the California State Auditor criticized the University of California’s handling of contract workers.

The audit reviewed 31 contracts from three campuses, two medical centers and the UC Office of President, and found that low-wage contract workers were paid on average $3.86 less than their “comparable” university-employed counterparts. Also detailed in the report were many suggestions on ways to change university policies, such as strengthening worker displacement guidelines.

The audit report recommended that UCOP play a more active role in enforcing guidelines, based on two instances of worker displacement in the 31 contracts that were analyzed.

“Our review suggests that the displacement guidelines are not fully serving the purposes for which the university created them,” the report stated. “Specifically, although the displacement guidelines stated purpose is to ensure university locations have sound business justifications when displacing employees, the Office of the President does not ensure that all university locations are aware of the guidelines.”

The audit report also stated that there was a discrepancy in information shared between UCOP and UC campuses because of a lack of a central database for workers’ contracts. According to the report, the lack of a central database means that neither UCOP nor the UC campuses have “complete and accurate information” regarding contracts.

According to UCOP spokesperson Claire Doan, UCOP began working on a software suite, which includes a database, in July 2017, and a plan for the project is expected to be completed by October 2017.

“The university will continue striving for the optimal balance between improving quality, reducing operating costs and fairly compensating hardworking employees,” Doan said in an email.

In a statement about the audit released Tuesday, Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299 — a UC workers union, which has been vocal about its support for UC contract workers in the past — said she believes the audit shows the university has been undermining a subset of its workforce. AFSCME spokesperson John de los Angeles added that the union has been condemning UCOP’s treatment of contract workers for years.

“We’re not surprised at all. What this audit does is confirm what we’ve been saying all along, that UC has been systematically undercutting the wages and benefits for their workers,” de los Angeles alleged.

The audit report states, however, that the purpose of contracting out services is usually to find a less costly solution. According to the audit, it is “not particularly surprising” that the wages and benefits of contract workers are unfavorable in comparison to those of university employees.

Doan said UCOP is following the 2015 Fair Wage/Fair Work program to continue increasing the wages of contract workers. She added that UCOP agrees with the auditor on the importance of enforcing policy compliance by UC campuses and medical centers.

“We take (the California State Auditor’s) recommendations seriously and view this audit as an opportunity to improve our policies and achieve even greater efficiency in carrying out our teaching, research and service missions,” Doan said in her email.

Sakura Cannestra covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.

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