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A $162,000 mistake: University of California to pay student victims of faulty payroll system

Janet Napolitano explains her involvement in audit of UC: ‘We could have handled this better’

University of California President Janet Napolitano on May 2, 2017 told a legislative committee that her office should not have taken actions that made it appear it was interfering in an audit. Video courtesy of the California Channel.
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University of California President Janet Napolitano on May 2, 2017 told a legislative committee that her office should not have taken actions that made it appear it was interfering in an audit. Video courtesy of the California Channel.

The University of California will pay out more than $162,000 in “make whole” payments to student workers who received delayed, missed or smaller-than-expected paychecks as a result of the university’s new UCPath payroll system.

Affected students will receive $150 for every month of payment irregularity, up to $450. The UC system also will cover the taxes incurred by the payout. This will lead to a total bill of $162,375.94, according to Alex Bush, finance secretary for UAW 2865 and a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley.

This payment is in addition to whatever wages the UC system still owes.

This settlement follows months of back-and-forth between the university system administration and student leaders.

“It’s been a long fight,” Bush said in an interview Monday.

The UC system has gradually rolled out its UCPath payroll system, which aims to provide a unified system to replace the system’s aging payroll structures, first with the UC system itself and then with UC Merced and UC Riverside. In fall 2018, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA became the latest to see the change.

More than 760 students responded to a UAW online survey seeking accounts of payment problems, and about half of them “UC didn’t know about until we informed them,” Bush said.

“UC greatly appreciates the UAW’s partnership in identifying and working through these issues,” a spokesperson for the university system said in a statement following announcement of the settlement.

A spokeswoman for the UC system declined to comment further on the settlement, or the plan to continue implementing UCPath.

Bush credited student protest action for motivating the UC system to pay up.

“I think they saw we were building pressure on them,” Bush said. “Our members were working hard to hold them accountable.”

That included marching into chancellors’ offices, and in one case handing over a bill for all the expenses incurred by students as a result of not getting paid properly, she said.

Students also contacted their legislators; Bush said that the attention of lawmakers, and media coverage of the UCPath problems, also helped to motivate the UC system to settle.

But while Bush hailed the settlement as a major victory, she said the fight is far from over.

On April 1, UC Davis and UC Berkeley will roll out UCPath.

“We’ve had no word of any intention to delay it,” Bush said. “We really don’t want to see this happen to any more people.”

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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