The University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the UC Regents on Sept. 9, alleging the UC missed 2,140 retirement fund contributions to the Defined Contribution Retirement Supplement (DCRS) accounts of 213 UC-AFT employees, totaling $652,029.93.
The charge alleges the UC Regents committed two violations under the Higher Education Employee-Employer Relations Act by withholding payments and refusing to bargain, according to a Sept. 18 press release.
UC-AFT members affected by the charge include UC lecturers represented by UC-AFT’s unit 18. Jeb Purucker, the UC Santa Cruz field representative for UC-AFT and a UCSC lecturer, said these lecturers are on the “bottom rung” in terms of job security. Without tenure or guaranteed regular pay, lecturers often face financial instability.
“Full-time work for a lecturer is twice as many courses as full-time teaching for a professor, and for that we get paid a lot less than they do,” Purucker said. “Our jobs are a lot less secure. There are real consequences for lecturers.”
The charge claims that lecturers and other UC-AFT members were paid inadequate retirement funds due to technical issues with UCPath, a new payroll system that has become the primary employee payment system for the nine UC campuses over the last year.
On May 5, UC Labor Relations Manager Ian Smith sent an email letter to UC-AFT President Mia McIver, stating there was an “incorrect programming configuration in UCPath,” resulting in 2,140 missing contributions. Upon further inquiry from the union, the UC stated the missed payments were the result of a faulty retirement account job code when UCPath was first implemented. However, the specific error and its solution were not provided after another inquiry was sent on July 2 and have not been released at time of press.
“The university can’t really give us any information about [UC]Path,” Purucker said. “We always get, ‘it’s a technical problem, and we don’t fully understand it ourselves.’”
During UCPath’s integration period, there were other technical errors, including missing pay for student employees. Bill Quirk, executive director of UC-AFT and primary correspondent with the UC, claimed there have been other payroll issues involving UC-AFT employees.
“In addition to the failure to make retirement contributions, there have been numerous issues with people not getting paid, people getting paid too much, and the university demanding this money be paid back on very short notice with very strict terms,” Quirk said, “which is difficult for people.”
When asked about these errors through email, UC senior communications strategist Stett Holbrook responded, “We addressed the issue promptly, and apologize for any distress the matter may have caused.”
At time of press, no other UCOP staff replied to multiple requests for comment.
Missed Retirement Contributions
Allegedly, the UC began making corrections to the accounts before the legally required information was provided to UC-AFT. The May 5 letter states the UC corrected the UCPath error and the missing funds would be allocated to the 213 affected employees.
“We regret the payroll error,” Holbrook said in an email. “And have since corrected it and made our employees whole.”
UC DCRS contributions go toward a retirement savings fund similar to 401(k) retirement accounts. Five percent of an eligible employee’s income is added to the account each year. Over time, higher market prices mean a higher account value, as interest accrues on the fund.
UC-AFT field representative Jeb Purucker said the value these funds would have accrued during the time contributions were missed may have not been reimbursed when corrections were first made.
To determine what the accounts would be worth now, the UC would need to calculate the amount of interest that would have accrued over the time when contributions were missed.
The UC-AFT charge calls the May 5 letter “startlingly undetailed” and states that replies to union questioning remained incomplete. Another letter was sent from the UC on May 28 with more information as requested by the union on May 11.
The UC said the equation used would be provided after adjustments were made in the UCPath system, but this equation has not yet been released.
“They refused to answer that question. Even long after, they refused to give us the formula they used to correct for market gains,” Quirk said.
The initial May 5 letter sent by the university stated that the earnings or losses determined by the employee’s investments would be taken into account when missed contributions are repaid but did not clarify how. Quirk sent an email on June 2 asking for more information on the calculation, but received no further information.
Purucker and Quirk both expressed concern over what they see as a lack of transparency.
“These are investment accounts. What about the money that would have accrued for people during the time these contributions weren’t being made?” Purucker said. “That’s something we’re trying to sort out.”
Bargaining and Transparency
According to Higher Education Employee-Employer Relations Act (HEERA), which protects university employee rights by defining fair labor practices, and the union’s agreement of rights with the UC, UC-AFT must be given all relevant personnel information and the opportunity to bargain when requested.
Quirk began correspondence with the UC six days after receiving the May 5 letter, asking questions about who was affected, how much money was not distributed and over what period, what specific coding error occurred, and how the error had been corrected before the May 5 letter was sent.
“When they told us about the 200 people, we sent them a request for information about who was impacted, how much money was missed,” Quirk said. “The university is having all kinds of problems providing our union with the data they are obligated to provide us about the members of our bargaining unit.”
The charge alleges the UC’s response on May 28 was partial, and did not provide all the information needed for bargaining, saying that the “UC failed even to come up to the level of surface bargaining.” As recorded in the charge, Quirk sent an email July 2 with an official demand to bargain between July 6 and 10. Letters from the UC to UC-AFT show no response to union bargaining demands that continued through July.
On July 7, Quirk was informed that his primary contact with the UC had retired and no further communication is recorded in the charge.
“This is an area of this issue that the UC has no transparency on how they’re correcting this problem,” Quirk said, ”and they haven’t corrected the problem, which is why there’s no transparency.”