UC worker furlough plan clears committee

SAN FRANCISCO — A key committee of the University of California on Wednesday approved an emergency budget plan that would force most of the system's 180,000 employees to take pay cuts and unpaid leave to offset a steep drop in state funding.

The finance committee of the UC Board of Regents voted for the proposal aimed at closing an $813 million budget shortfall caused by a 20 percent reduction in state support to the 10-campus system.

The full board was expected to approve the move Thursday.

"We have a plan which is fair, but no one is happy about it," UC President Mark Yudof told the regents. "No one likes a pay cut, but no one likes being laid off either, so we have to make some tough choices."

The furloughs would cover about a quarter of the budget deficit in UC's general fund. The remainder would be addressed by a previously approved student fee increase, debt refinancing and deep budget cuts at individual campuses.

Under the plan, up to 80 percent of the system's work force would be forced to take salary reductions ranging from 4 percent to 10 percent and take 11 to 26 furlough days. Higher-paid workers would take bigger pay cuts but receive more time off. The one-year plan would take effect Sept. 1.

The furloughs would not apply to several groups including most students, employees at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and researchers who receive funding from the federal government or other outside sources.

UC officials still have to reach agreements on furloughs with unions that represent about 35 percent of university employees.

Failure to agree to furloughs could lead to more layoffs among unionized staff, Yudof said.

Dozens of UC workers protested inside and outside the meeting.

Some employees urged the regents to explore other measures such as tapping the university's reserves, curbing executive compensation and slowing down campus expansion.

"We think this plan is unnecessary and extremely harmful to the University of California," said Jelger Kalmijn, a UC San Diego researcher who heads the University Professional and Technical Employees union, which represents about 12,000 workers and is negotiating a new contract.

Hardship cited

For many employees, the pay cuts "will mean the difference between being able to pay their mortgage and not being able to pay their mortgage," he said.

Officials say the furloughs are designed to reduce layoffs.

Employees told UC officials they preferred furloughs over straight salary cuts because they are temporary, preserve pension benefits and give employees extra time off.

UC faculty members told the regents the salary reductions would make it much harder to retain and recruit top professors and graduate students. Under the furlough plan, UC professors on average would earn about 20 percent less than their peers at comparable universities, they said.

"These budget cuts, if they persist, will lead to the irreversible decline of the University of California," said Sandra Faber, who heads the astronomy department at UC Santa Cruz.

Under the budget plan, about 40 percent of the cuts, totaling about $300 million, would be absorbed by the individual campuses.

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