With the precarious financial state of California, UC has been forced to make cuts to programs and staff – Rico Chavez’s new film, “Hanging by a Thread,” explores the lives of UC workers in light of these cuts.
The roughly 10-minute long film was screened in Giedt Hall on Wednesday, which was followed by a panel discussion. The film alleges that workers, such as custodians and cooks, are unable to make ends meet, while top executives are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
“It feels like the pay that I get for the work that I do is not enough,” said Danny Garcia, a cook at the UC Davis dining halls and panel speaker. “Because I have six girls, it is hard to provide [for all of them], but it is a joy to work in order to feed my family.”
Garcia has worked at the campus dining commons for five years and earns $31,000 annually. Garcia’s salary falls $13,000 short of what he needs to provide his family with basic necessities, according to the California Budget Project – a nonprofit organization that annually evaluates the cost of living for different communities within the state.
Peter King, UC spokesperson, said that compared to industry standards, faculty, senior management and chancellors are underpaid.
“Our service workers are at market, but when you factor in the health benefits and the pension plan, they are well above market,” King said.
According to a total remuneration study published in October 2009, the average market salary for a service worker is $30,200 and the average UC worker’s salary is $30,000. However, with pension and benefits, total compensation for a service worker is $51,000 and for a worker at UC is $61,000.
Sergio Blanco-Herrera, a senior political science major and panel speaker, said that he was disappointed in the UC system because of the cut programs, such as financial aid and student retention programs. Blanco-Herrera also said that he has accumulated over $20,000 in debt in over four years and is therefore forced to delay his postgraduate education.
According to a report by Project on Student Debt – an initiative of the nonprofit independent research and policy organization, Institute for College Access & Success – the average national debt for the class of 2009 was $24,000.
King said that cutting programs is a step back and is not something anyone is pleased about; however, the university is still strong.
“We are by far the premier public research university in the world, and we do receive record number of applications, so some people still think we have quality,” King said.
The film cited that the UC Board of Regents recently approved $3 million in bonuses to medical center executives.
However, King said that members of the UC system have not seen bonuses in a long time except for incentive pay. Incentive pay is given to everyone when certain quotas in the medical center are met, which is an industry standard.
“There are certainly low wage workers, patient care workers and janitors that are not getting a bonus, and even if they were, the amount of their bonus would be so minuscule in comparison,” said Adam Keigwin, Sen. Leland Yee’s chief of staff and panel speaker.
Keigwin said that over 95 percent of UC’s low wageworkers qualify for public assistance, and that does not make sense when top executives are making millions of dollars. However, no one is saying a janitor should be making the same amount as a CEO of a medical center, Keigwin said.
Student Regent Jesse Cheng said everyone at UC is hanging by a thread, including professional staff, workers, faculty, students and members of the community that depend on UC. Cheng said this is due to the state of California leaving the UC system in a precarious financial state.
Chavez, an independent filmmaker, created “Hanging by a Thread.” In an e-mail interview, Chavez said that after seeing clips from the 2009 protests and seeing students getting beaten by police, he was shocked and inspired to create the film.
“It’s important that we have an affordable and accessible public university,” Chavez said. “We also need accountability; too many lives are being affected by the poor decisions made by the regents and the lack of public oversight.”
For more information or to view the film visit: http://hangingbyathreaduc.com
JASPREET BAHIA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.