UC Merced

‘That was a nightmare.’ UC employees still reporting hardships from faulty payroll

University of California employees continue to report missed or reduced direct deposit paychecks that they attribute to the university system’s troubled payroll system, UCPath.

The complaints, often from student employees whose paycheck-to-paycheck income leaves them particularly vulnerable to payroll problems, prompted two California state lawmakers — Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego — to write letters voicing their concern to the University of California chancellors in their respective districts.

“Too many student workers have gone without pay, in some cases for months,” Gonzalez wrote.

Skinner wrote that she appreciated the university system’s effort to update its aging payroll infrastructure — which includes creating a centralized hub for the entire system — but added “delayed wages can have disproportionate impact on student workers.”

Hundreds of employees at UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside and UC Merced — where the UCPath system has been implemented — had reported problems such as improper payment amounts, tax deductions or union dues withdrawals when McClatchy reported on the faulty payroll system in early December.

A month later, many employees say they are still feeling the pain of not getting paid on time.

One of them, UCLA graduate student Laura Muñoz making $25,000 a year, penned a Medium essay detailing how she faced late fees and student loan penalties. She was forced to rely on her siblings for financial support after experiencing missed paychecks on Nov. 1, Nov. 14 and Dec. 1.

The university later gave her a pay card containing the money it owed her.

“As a worker, when I can’t meet my financial obligations, I am held accountable — and it shouldn’t be any different for UC,” she wrote.

Yunyi Li, a UCLA doctoral student and union leader, said “People are often just not sure if there’s a check coming in the mail.”

Li said she’s heard from other people who have been dropped from classes, or reported major late fees, as a result of payments not being properly deducted.

She said that she has been “OK comparatively,” but that she has routinely been getting paper paychecks, days after payday, despite being signed up for direct deposit.

“It’s just a huge pain when rent is due on the 5th,” Li said.

The UC system is adopting the new payroll system to replace a legacy, 35-year-old program. The project came in late and over budget, with its total cost rising to about $500 million. That’s about three times as much as the UC planned to spend, UC officials told The Sacramento Bee in 2017.

In an early December interview with McClatchy, UC Associate Vice President of Operations Mark Cianca acknowledged that the skipped payments are “a big deal” but that the university system is adequately staffed to address the concerns.

“I do want to make it really clear: Everybody gets paid,” he said.

UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said she is unaware of any payroll issues at UCLA with the most recent pay day, and that its payroll validation process has not flagged any problems.

“That said, it could take some time for an issue to make its way to us,” she said.

Missed paychecks aren’t the only problem employees have encountered as the university system changes over to UCPath.

In October, UCLA Extension Professor Benjamin Goldberg received a letter in the mail informing him that his health insurance was accidentally canceled.

“I was constantly emailing and calling and checking in,” he said. “That was a major nightmare. It took about two months to get corrected.”

Goldberg said he’s “a pretty forgiving guy,” but that he wants to see accountability for the cancellation, as well as missed or incorrect payments in October and January.

“Be proactive. Reach out. Don’t just wait for us to do all the contacting. We’re busy. We have jobs to do. This is their job,” he said. “Don’t make me have to chase you down a hundred times. Don’t make me have to tell my story a hundred times.”

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.