Ninety-six percent of over 10,000 union employees, faculty and students at the University of California (UC) have voted that they have no confidence in the leadership of UC President Mark Yudof.
The ballot was distributed between Aug. 26 and Sept. 2 by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Coalition of University Employees (CUE), the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), for the purpose of raising awareness locally and throughout the state that UC workers are displeased with their management.
Those who voted were members of the UC coalition. In addition, students were also allowed to participate, but did so minimally since school was not yet in session at most UC campuses.
Mike Rotkin, the president of the University Council of the American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) Local 2199, which represents lecturers and librarians, supported the no-confidence vote.
“There’s a lack of confidence in the direction Yudof is taking the university. There’s a lack of confidence in his vision of what this university is supposed to be about,” Rotkin said.
Rotkin, who is also a Santa Cruz city councilmember, a UCSC community studies lecturer and former mayor, said the voices of the UC worker community rang out with one clear message.
A precursor to the walkout of Sept. 24, the vote comes mainly in response to the Regent’s approval in July of a furlough plan. To make up for a quarter of the $813 million no longer provided by the state, the furlough plan requires all university employees to take a certain amount of unpaid work days off based on salary level.
Although each of the unions involved in the vote have various reasons for their lack of trust in Yudof’s competency, they agree on several points. Many UC employees and their representatives believe that Yudof is using the budget crisis as an excuse to move the university in the direction of his and the other regents’ priorities, at the expense of students and workers.
“There is a priority crisis at UC, not a budget crisis,” Rotkin said.
Union leaders acknowledge that the state of California is lacking funds, but say that is not the case for the UC. The $813 million UC shortfall makes up less than 5 percent of the UC’s total annual budget of approximately $19 billion. For employees, it doesn’t seem to add up that such a small overall change would require such drastic cutbacks.
“It would be prudent to have a 5 percent budget cut somehow, but I don’t know how they [decided upon] a 20 percent cut,” Rotkin noted.
Furthermore, unions argue that the UCs have funds they could use to make up for the lack in state funding — such as an estimated $4 billion in unrestricted funds — they just haven’t chosen to utilize that money yet.
Ernesto Encinas, a member of AFSCME who works at the College Nine and Ten dining hall, believes the UC is not looking enough at alternatives.
“Don’t blame it on the state,” Encinas said. “There’s money within the system.”
Steve Montiel, a spokesperson for UC’s Office of the President, says the idea that there is available money that isn’t being utilized is a commonly held misconception.
“It’s a myth that there is some source of uncommitted funds,” Montiel said, noting that “unrestricted” is an accounting term that refers to funds that are not federally restricted, but are still internally allocated.
UC’s Chief Financial Officer Peter Taylor said the budget is similar to a checking account.
“You might get paid on the 15th of the month,” he said, “and that cash comes in and on that day it looks pretty good, but the fact of the matter is you know there’s a mortgage bill coming, there’s a tuition bill coming, there’s a Mastercard bill coming … that money is committed.”
The UC budget isn’t only used for direct campus funding. It covers a wide variety of operations including UC medical centers and a vast web of employee pensions and benefits. Because of these various costs, what may appear to be a pile of money sitting in the bank is, in fact, very fluid according to the administration.
Nora Hochman, an organizer for the CUE Local 10, thinks that even if there is a lack of funds in UC, Yudof could pursue better ways of managing the budget without jeopardizing the University’s mission. She said he could spend more energy on lobbying the Legislature for a permanent higher education fund.
“There are a lot of alternatives,” Hochman said. “But they require political will. Instead he took the easy way out and is taking the money off the backs of students and workers.”
Union leaders say that since the vote, not much has changed. Certain unions are currently in the bargaining process with the administration over furlough programs and compensation. The Office of the President has generally dismissed the no confidence vote because fewer than half of all UC workers voted. Since the main purpose of the vote was to raise awareness, workers are hoping that more students will learn about the issues and become involved.
“The next step,” Rotkin said, “is likely in the hands of students.”