Monday Memo: news & views about working at UC

For the Week of January 06, 2013

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UC’s 15,000 researchers, techs and health care professionals are returning to work in 2014 with their union contracts settled, after voting overwhelmingly to ratify an agreement that UPTE-CWA negotiated which includes cost-of-living increases of 11.5 to 13% and preserves the retirement system on a single-tier in exchange for an additional contribution. UC management had initially proposed a two-tier pension system that would have dramatically reduced benefits for current and future employees, but UPTE’s members poured out onto picket lines, wrote letters and even went on strike in solidarity with other UC workers last spring to make clear that course was not acceptable.
HX bargaining at UCD Medical Center
February, 2013

December 29 marked the five-year anniversary of the UCLA lab fire that resulted in the death 18 days later of Sheri Sangji, an UPTE-represented lab assistant who was fatally burned after being given inadequate safety training and equipment. A Science Magazine blog (subscription required) noted that some progress has been made to ensure safety in academic labs, following prosecution of the professor supervising the lab and a settlement with UC for criminal negligence. But still, it said, needless deaths continue to occur. UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran still faces trial on felony labor code violations.

The new UC Care health plan continues to face criticism that its benefits don’t match those of the out-going PPO plan, Anthem Blue Cross, and that UC is intentionally shifting costs to employees through higher co-pays for hospitalization and out-of-network services. UCSB faculty member Chris Newfield, who outlined the problems in recent posts of his Remaking the University blog, has also published followup questions on the issues, adding another problem with the health care plans: a whole “class of retirees are being booted off UC health care based on their residency outside of California.”

A $120 million class action settlement against Aetna health insurance was announced in late December, to compensate doctors and patients for the company’s underpayment of out-of-network providers for more than a decade. Aetna used an insurance database to set the “usual, customary and reasonable” rates for out-of-network services abnormally low, passing the costs on to patients and providers. Aetna was UC’s PPO insurance provider before Anthem Blue Cross, so if you were a member, check out the claim process here. The California Medical Association is pursuing a similar lawsuit against Anthem Blue Cross.

A smoking ban is now in effect throughout the University of California system "at all indoor and outdoor campus areas, including inside one’s car while on campus" – though UC Irvine is allowing electronic cigarettes and chewing tobacco despite the ban. The California State University system is leaving the decision to individual campuses.

The New York Times had dubbed 2012 as the “Year of the MOOC,” or massive online open classes, which were hailed as the latest educational innovation that would democratize education. Governor Brown pressured UC and the Cal State system to expand their online courses. But as this NPR story reported, 2013 was the year the MOOCs went bust, with dismal completion rates and grades. CSU campuses have curtailed their collaboration with Udacity, a major online course provider, whose CEO admitted, “We have a lousy product.”

More than $59 million of UCRS assets are invested in the venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, part of the $70 billion investment portfolio UC manages for retirees. As the Monday Memo reported in October 2012 and February 2013, Reuters and the Coalition of University Employees filed suit under the state public Records Act to force disclosure of the investments’ performance, and courts ruled that UC had to disclose the information under the state’s public information laws. But on December 19, Reuters reported that a panel of state court judges ruled that UC "is under no obligation to obtain and disclose" this kind of information. _____________________________________________________________________________________

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