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Worker Worries

news1AFSCME workers wonder how UC budget cuts will further impact their jobs
Budget cuts have meant cutbacks for nearly every area of the UC Santa Cruz campus, impacting students, faculty and staff alike. For some workers the reality of just how deep the past several years of cuts have been has never been more obvious or unnerving than now. Along with furloughs and increased costs for everything from healthcare to retirement, some UCSC workers are also facing the dual pressure of an increased workload and the fear of losing their job in the next round of layoffs.

One UCSC employee of more than 20 years, who wishes to remain nameless, says she has watched her work as a custodian become increasingly more difficult over the past few years. She is now required to clean twice the number of areas she would have cleaned two years ago in the same amount of time.

A single mother of four, she makes about $12 an hour at UCSC, and has a second job off campus to help support her family. She says that she has no choice but to keep her job at UCSC.

"With this job I pay everything, all my bills," she says. "My other job just pays for gas. I can't afford to lose my job here."

So, she cleans around 20 restrooms a day, plus classrooms, offices and hallways.

“The whole campus is going to suffer because of this [budget crisis],” she says. “It’s not possible to keep everything clean in the amount of time we have.”

She is not the only one feeling the stress of the increased workloads.

A crowd of approximately 75 American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 workers, students and faculty supporters rallied in UCSC's Quarry Plaza on Thursday, May 12. They marched across the campus to the administrative offices at Kerr Hall, where several protestors spoke about increased stress and workloads, and health and safety concerns related to reductions in custodial services for students. One protestor said that with the increased stress and time to complete her work, she felt like she was working "by the minute,” instead of by the hour.

The action was a part of a system-wide protest. Speakers at UCSC presented campus administrative representatives with an outline of cost-saving measures they feel should be considered before reductions to academic divisions or layoffs are enacted. The group argues that the University of California can save $600 million through administrative reductions and other methods, including eliminating supplemental benefits for senior managers, and reducing the manager to non-manager employee ratio from 1 to 7 to 1 to 8.

When addressing the UC Board of Regents in March, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal noted that in the past three years UCSC has eliminated, defunded or reduced 316 staff, 110 teaching assistant positions and 80 unfilled faculty positions.

He also stated this year's budget could result in cuts of an estimated additional 40 faculty, 120 teaching assistants and 150 staff positions.

In an email to Good Times, UCSC Director of Public Information Jim Burns said that because UCSC is still speculating as to what its exact share of the UC's state-mandated $500 million budget reduction will be, it is still too early to say with any kind of precision how many positions will be lost at UCSC.

Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway is expected to provide principal officers, deans and vice chancellors with their individual department budget reduction sometime in May.

Once the decisions have been made concerning which sectors on campus will receive cuts, the next step will be to determine how those departments execute those cuts, at which time there will be a better sense of its impact, including the number of reduced positions and layoffs that should be expected.

"The chancellor and executive vice chancellor have made no secret of the fact that these cuts will be impactful,” Burns says via email. “And they will absolutely result in job losses. An 'all-cuts' budget is apt to increase student fees—perhaps dramatically —and lead to many more job losses."

Over the past three years, 2008-09 through 2010-11 school years, UCSC has had to make approximately $32.1 million in permanent budget reductions with $5.1 million cut from Business and Administrative Services, the division on campus that supports the most employees including transportation and parking, grounds, custodial, staff human resources, and internal audit employees among others.

Between April 2007 and April 2010, professional support staff positions, which includes clerical and allied services, maintenance, protective services, food and linen services and others has dropped from 3,010 part time and 1,897 full time employees to 2,703 part time and 1,827 full time employees.

In last year's budget cuts, only a handful of UCSC AFSCME members were laid-off; so far the real impact for them has come from a freeze on hiring new employees. When workers retire or leave the university for medical or other reasons, the remaining employees are expected to pick up the slack.

One worker who addressed the May 12 crowd explained that he saw his work load double when two of his coworkers who were assigned to clean the area left the university. The night-shift custodian must now clean two large buildings on his own.

AFSCME organizer Monica Molina says the union, which represents a wide range of workers on campus including custodians, cooks, bus drivers, groundskeepers, clerical workers and others, is working with UCSC labor relations to try to improve these work conditions.

In addition to increased workloads for many workers, some services have also been reduced, helping to mitigate the decrease in staffing. According to the UCSC Physical Plant website, ucscplant.ucsc.edu, budget cuts have meant a reduction, in custodial services. While all restrooms, classrooms and public areas will remain on their daily schedule, offices are now cleaned once a week instead of twice, and labs are cleaned three times a week instead of daily.

Worker Nicolas Gutierrez is hopeful that Chancellor Blumenthal will hear the concerns of UCSC workers and present them to the Board of Regents.

“We understand cutbacks in a time of crisis, but not while there are executives making $200,000 and $300,000 and getting bonuses,” Gutierrez says. “Some execs make good money, [and] that's fine, but stop with the bonuses—that is the part that is hard to understand. We expect Blumenthal to act on our behalf and address these issues with the regents.”

Gutierrez, who has been a custodian at UCSC for 16 years, inspired the gathered demonstrators on May 12 with a call to action, asking them “to not give up.”

There have been a number of similar protests and actions the past few academic years at UCSC, as well as system wide. With the current contract between Local 3299 and the UC expiring in October 2012, and current negotiations over proposed increases in employee contributions to pension program and changes to healthcare benefits and coverage, Gutierrez says workers must continue to speak out.

“With these kinds of actions, the meetings happen—sometimes not as quickly as we would like—and things get better. But soon after things start to go back to the way they were,” says Gutierrez. “That's why we have to keep fighting, it’s an ongoing struggle.”

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