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University Committee Votes for Worker Furloughs

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Above: San Diego Week host Gloria Penner asks local editors about what's behind California's budget stalemate.

— A key committee of the University of California on Wednesday approved a budget plan that would force most of the system's 180,000 employees to take unpaid leave and pay cuts to offset a steep drop in state funding.

The finance committee of the UC Board of Regents voted for the proposal aimed at closing an $813 million budget shortfall caused by a 20 percent reduction in state support to the 10-campus system.

The full board was expected to approve the move Thursday.

"We have a plan which is fair, but no one is happy about it," UC President Mark Yudof told the regents. "No one likes a salary cut, but no likes being laid off either, so we have to make some tough choices."

The furloughs will cover about a quarter of the UC's projected budget deficit. The remainder will be addressed by a previously approved student fee increase, debt refinancing and deep budget cuts at individual campuses.

Under the plan, up to 80 percent of the system's work force will be forced to take furloughs and salary reductions ranging from 4 percent to 10 percent. Higher-paid workers will take bigger pay cuts but receive more time off. The one-year plan takes effect Sept. 1.

The furloughs will not apply to several groups including students, employees at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and researchers who receive funding from the federal government or other outside source or employees.

UC officials still have to reach agreements on furloughs with unions that represent about 35 percent of university employees. Failure to agree to furloughs could lead to more layoffs among unionized staff, Yudof said.

Officials say the furloughs are designed to prevent widespread layoffs. Employees told UC officials they preferred furloughs over straight salary cuts because they are temporary, preserve pension benefits and give employees extra time off.

UC faculty members told the regents the salary reductions will make it much harder to retain and recruit top researchers and graduate students.

"Disinvesting in the University of California at this time is like eating our seed corn," said Sandra Faber, a UC Santa Cruz astronomy professor. "It's the excellent professors that are the engine for the entire organization."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are proposing unprecedented cuts to state colleges and universities to help close a $26.3 billion budget deficit.

Next week, the governing board of the 23-campus California State University system is scheduled to vote on a plan to furlough nearly all its employees and raise student fees by 20 percent to address its budget deficit.

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