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UCLA Workers Protest, Call For Better Benefits

Regina Graham |
March 16, 2011 | 11:31 p.m. PDT


UC labor union members protested outside the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. (Chris Radcliff, Creative Commons)
UC labor union members protested outside the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. (Chris Radcliff, Creative Commons)
About 50 members of University of California labor unions marched in a picket line protesting against the proposed changes to their retirement benefits Wednesday outside of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

With signs reading, “UC workers deserve healthcare, retirement and dignity,” union members chanted loudly “whose university, our university” against the proposed changes from the UC Board of Regents that will affect current employees, current retirees and both future employees and retirees.

The changes include: employees paying more toward their pension benefits, UC reducing its contribution to medical premiums and a competitive pension benefits package that could possibly reduce how much money employees would receive monthly if hired after July 2013, according to a statement released by the UC Office of President Mark G. Yudof.

Los Angeles native Donyelle Smith, a 40 year-old mother of three who is a UCLA Health Systems Administrator, stands firmly against the proposed cuts to the retirement benefits.

“I’m here today to protest against the UC Regents in order for them to stop trying to balance the budget on the low paid workers,” said Smith, who is a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME).

She fears that if the state budget passes, most of the UC workers will have to get second, maybe third jobs and possibly public assistance, Smith said. As a mother of three, Smith is also concerned with how Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $500 million cut UC’s budget next year will affect students.

“The quality of education is also going to be affected big time because most students can’t afford to come here with all of the cuts and higher tuition fees,” Smith said. “It will be a lot of kids who can’t afford to get a college education.”

Members of AFSCME, which represents custodians, vocational nurses and other UC workers, organized the protest. The union held similar protests on the respective UC campuses in Davis and Sacramento.

Andrea Giese-Sweat, a 29-year old clinical social worker who was just hired by the UC roughly two years ago, is also against the proposed budget cuts and is upset about the alleged bonuses that UC executives are receiving.

“I feel disillusioned by the way that the UC executives and regents are setting their spending priorities,” Giese-Sweat said.

“Instead of taking care of the staff, the students, the workers, they are taking care of themselves with huge executive bonuses and raises to the top employees and administrators.”

“A large portion of my salary is being contributed to my pension and these cuts will affect it dramatically,” Giese-Sweat said.

A Georgia native and AFSCME union member, Giese-Sweat disapproves of the proposed pension plan since her pension amount would be reduced if she stayed working for the UC system, she said.

“Basically, I’m really sick of it and tired of the way the university is treating their employees,” Giese-Sweat said.

She also has her own fears about the quality of education that students receive within the UC system.

“I’m really concerned about the education because they are making huge cuts and talking about bringing in more out-of-state students to increase the income,” Giese-Sweat said. “The thing about it is that they are not adding more faculty, they are just increasing class sizes and bringing in teacher assistants to teach which is wrong.”

Phil Hampton, Assistant Director of the UCLA Office of Media Relations said, “It is natural that there is going to be anxiety and concern by the many stake holders including the labor unions and what we are seeing today is a manifestation of some of that concern and anxiety.”

The UC system values the contributions of all of its employees, especially at UCLA, Hampton said.

“Those concerns are being incorporated into decisions that are being made by the campus and the UC system,” Hampton said. The UC Board of Regents met in San Francisco Wednesday to discuss next year’s budget and the impact of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $500 million cut to UC’s budget next year.



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