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Union Organizers at UC Campuses Push for Hearing : Education: Letter campaign seeks meeting about cuts and making UC officials more accountable to taxpayers.


IRVINE — Union organizers at several University of California campuses, reacting to proposed cutbacks in programs statewide, have begun a campaign to push legislators to hold a hearing on retooling the upper echelons of the financially troubled system.

Members of three employee unions are distributing form letters to college students, professors and others, and asking that they send the letters to state officials.

The letters request that officials call a select committee hearing, where employees and students would speak against teaching cutbacks and fee increases and in support of making UC officials more accountable to taxpayers, union officials said.

The letters will be sent to eight key state senators and assembly members, urging that the hearing be called in Sacramento on May 2, said Linda Solas, a representative with the UC Irvine local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"I'd support the hearing," said state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), who has met with union representatives at UCI and serves on Senate education and appropriations committees. "It's the only way legislators will see face to face the problems out there."

If legislators hold the hearing, it would take place one day after a union-led caravan crosses the state and ends with a rally at UC Berkeley, Solas said. Union members plan to board vans and cars starting at UC San Diego, picking up people at UCLA and other universities along the way.

The campaign is gearing up as worries about budgetary strains in the UC system build. This is the last week that people at UCI can respond to various cost-cutting proposals at the university. Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening will accept responses to the recommendations of two UCI budget task forces until Friday.

Organizers are mounting the statewide campaign at the same time that lawmakers say they are frustrated with the salary and benefit packages handed to university administrators, particularly when the state continues to face a deficit. Union organizers want less money to go toward such packages and more to be directed toward teachers.

But UC officials point out that they must offer competitive salaries and benefits to attract top administrators.

"Chancellors' salaries lag about 14%, on average, behind their counterparts in comparable (major research) institutions," UC spokesman Mike Alva said.

UC President Jack Peltason took the brunt of recent criticism after it was reported that in March, he discussed with administrators granting a full year's pay to retiring executives. Last week, he announced he would eliminate costly leaves.

"Now, more than ever, the staff, students, faculty and taxpayers need the leadership of our state elected officials to take a public stance in favor of accountability in UC governance," reads one of the union letters aimed at state senators.

Karen Maxson, an organizer with the American Federation of Teachers at UCI, said that her group, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the University Professional and Technical Employees will suggest that the UC Board of Regents be elected by voters, or be selected by a wider variety of state politicians. Of the 26 members, 18 are currently appointed by the governor, one is a student and the others are either elected politicians or university officials.

"The board has got to be autonomous and critically analyzing what the administration is spending," said Karen Maxson, an AFT organizer.

The president doles final allocations to each campus, and campus administrators determine how much goes to each department. Some union officials said they want regents to check what administrators decide.

Officials with the UC system maintain changes in the structure of the Board of Regents could backfire. The board already has shown during recent events--such as the criticism of Peltason--that it is a critical, questioning voice, Alva said.

"The matter of having (regents) elected could make more political a process that some critics say is already politicized," Alva said.

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