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UC, the state’s 3rd largest employer, will not do layoffs through June amid coronavirus crisis

UC President Janet Napolitano
UC President Janet Napolitano
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

The University of California, whose 227,000-member workforce is the third largest in the state, will not lay off any career employee through June 30 because of the coronavirus emergency, despite mounting financial uncertainty facing campuses, UC President Janet Napolitano announced Thursday.

Napolitano also had a message for the state’s employers: Avoid layoffs, and keep your workers paid for as long as possible.

“We are keenly aware of the health concerns and economic uncertainty weighing on the entire University community,” Napolitano and the system’s 10 campus chancellors said in letter to the UC community. “As we face the personal and professional challenges of the day, we are committed to doing all we can to alleviate concerns about income or job stability during this time.”

In an interview, Napolitano said she hoped other California employers would follow suit as families are facing tremendous stress. The no-layoff pledge will apply to all career employees at the 10 campuses, five medical centers and Office of the President. They include gardeners and dining hall workers, doctors and nurses, faculty members and administrators.

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“COVID-19 has injected such uncertainty into our state, our country and the world and to try to maintain operations and the workforce as we go through this will help mitigate the overall damage that the virus is causing to the economy and to families throughout the state and particularly at UC,” Napolitano said.

She said UC campuses are scrambling to redeploy employees who may no longer be needed in their regular jobs because the pandemic has prompted them to send most students home and shift to online learning. At UC Irvine, for instance, dining hall workers are now helping prepare box lunches for the broader community.

UC employees have been hoping for such assurances, including opportunities to retrain for different jobs as needed, said Todd Stenhouse, spokesman for AFSCME Local 3299, the university’s largest employee union, which represents more than 25,000 service and patient care technical workers.

Stenhouse said many union members have been on the frontlines of the battle against the virus, including custodians cleaning hospital rooms, respiratory therapists and patient assistants. He said they want economic protections but also continued opportunities to serve.

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“This is the culture of service and culture of courage that is the spirit of our union,” he said.

Napolitano added that it was unclear what would happen with jobs after June 30 but that UC officials would work with employee groups on that question. While staffing is often reduced during the summer in normal times, she said, it was uncertain what the employment picture will look like when the school year picks up again.

She said it also remains unclear how the coronavirus crisis will affect UC’s budget picture. In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a 5% funding boost for UC, amounting to $217.7 million, but Napolitano said she was recently told that he will remove the increase in his May revision. However, the state will revisit its funding to UC in August or September after July tax returns are in, she said.

At the same time, UC regents withdrew a proposal to raise tuition for each incoming class for the next five years, beginning this fall. Napolitano said Thursday that regents would not bring back that proposal at their May meeting.

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For now, Napolitano and the chancellors said, the university would work to protect its employees with continued pay and health and welfare benefits.

“Let us assure you,” they told the campus community, “we are in this together.”


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