UCPath errors persist one year after legislation preventing UC ‘wage theft’ exemptions

UCPath errors persist one year after legislation preventing UC ‘wage theft’ exemptions

Photo Credits: Timothy Li / Aggie File. Payroll errors during the transition to UC Path led to student workers at UC Davis protesting during Fall Quarter 2019.

Another wave of payroll and benefit errors causes UAW 5810 to file new grievances against the UC

Over the last few years, the UC system has been rolling out its new payroll system, UCPath, which was designed to make payroll more unified and efficient across the UC system. Since the beginning of this already time-consuming and expensive process, issues with payment and health benefits have been prevalent across UC campuses. In October 2019, Gov. Newsom passed Senate Bill No. 698, stripping the UC of its previous immunity to “wage theft law” under Section 220 of the Labor Code. This bill makes it illegal for the UC to pay employees in an untimely fashion and withdraw their health benefits without warning; but in the past year, these problems have persisted. 

Neil Sweeney, vice president of UAW 5810, said that despite this legislation, issues with benefit cancelations have continued. 

“We’re seeing that a lot of our members are getting their benefits canceled without any warning,” Sweeney said. “This has affected people who are about to have a baby, or about to have a medical procedure and there’s also the pandemic, of course, so it’s really stressful and scary.”

In addition to benefit cancelations, Sweeney added that many employees are being routinely underpaid by the UC which was the case even before the new payroll system, but has been exacerbated by the transition to UCPath. According to him, some UC Davis employees are being underpaid about $2500 each month.

“In terms of being paid, under our union contract, people get a salary increase every year that they work, so every month a different set of employees will get a pay raise because they’ve passed a year,” Sweeney said. “The university routinely fails to increase [wages] on time, but for campuses that transition to UCPath, we are seeing a doubling of problems with making sure people get these annual increases.”

Just within the last year, one UC employee, Gwen Chodur, a graduate student at UC Davis, has had three separate incidents of being underpaid via UCPath. Chodur, who works as the external vice president of the graduate program at Davis and president of the UC Graduate and Professional Council, explained that in just the past four months, she has encountered multiple issues with UCPath. 

“In this year alone, I’ve had several [problems],” Chodur said. “On July 1, my first paycheck included deductions for something that wasn’t supposed to be taken. I was one of almost 2,400 students at Davis who had that problem. Our paychecks were short somewhere between $300-700. On August 1, I was not paid for my 50% appointment position, one of my jobs, and my pay wasn’t included. Thankfully, in the second week of August I got my refund from the incorrect deduction in July, and that was the only reason I was able to pay rent that month.” 

She was paid incorrectly again in September, not receiving her appropriate pay for August and September until the middle of the month. Chodur stressed that these systematic mistakes have had a financial and emotional price. 

“I’ve bounced checks, I’ve accrued late fees because I wasn’t able to pay my phone bill and experienced the stress of not knowing because there’s no communication from [UCPath],” Chodur said.

In a press release in early October, President of UAW 5810 Anke Schennink echoed Chodur’s experiences, emphasizing the extreme burden these errors put on employees, especially in this already stressful time.

“These errors are particularly painful in the COVID era, as it is more important than ever to have health benefits coverage, […] as many people are experiencing increased economic stress,” Schennink said. “We are disappointed but not surprised that these issues continue to persist—UC has not done enough to correct these problems or prevent them from happening in the first place.”

Furthermore, Sweeney emphasized the importance of these issues being resolved quickly and efficiently.

“[Money] is a precious resource for the university and that should go towards teaching primarily,” Sweeney said. “Having to spend all this money on a payroll system […] and to spend all our time as a union and a university resolving these issues is a big waste of resources.”

Chodur said that, ultimately, these issues should not be occurring, and she emphasized her dissatisfaction towards the UC’s lack of action on this issue.

“It’s really frustrating because it seems like you don’t matter and this is the money that I need to live on,” Chodur said. “There’s no acknowledgement of the fact that you might have gotten late fees, or you might have had to put things on credit cards and now accrued interest. Those costs are borne by the person who’s on the receiving end of the UC’s mistake.”

Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — features@theaggie.org