Unions protest shared services layoffs at UC Berkeley

Union members at the University of California Berkeley (UC) on February 4 delivered a petition to UC leaders urging them to stop the layoffs of 28 employees who work for the university’s Campus Shared Services.

Campus Shared Services (CSS) is a centralized administrative unit that provides academic support services such as information technology, human resources, finance, and research administration to faculty and students.

The idea of centralizing administrative service at UC first surfaced in 2010 when a consulting firm called Bain & Company recommended doing so.

Bain & Company estimated that centralizing administrative support services could save UC between $12 million and $15 million a year.

UC leaders said that they needed to find ways to save money because state funding was declining.

In 2013, UC began implementing CSS.

Almost as soon as UC decided to centralize support services, unions representing campus workers warned that doing so would lead to layoffs and diminished services.

CSS was implemented gradually. Full implementation was finally complete in March 2015.

In November, the first layoff notices were sent out, and the University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 and Teamsters Local 2010, which represent the laid off workers, began a campaign to stop the layoffs.

On February 4, members of both unions demonstrated in front of UC’s administration building and delivered the petition to a representative of UC Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

The petition said that centralized shared services had not delivered the efficiencies that the consultants had predicted and that “cutting jobs at CSS won’t eliminate the problems we all know exist with CSS, it will only make them worse.”

Those at the February 4 demonstration had the same message,

“Layoffs (are) not really going to solve the problem of making workloads more efficient, which is what CSS was created to do,” said Alicia Flores, an administrative assistant at UC, who took part in a union sponsored demonstration.

Before CSS was implemented some faculty also warned that centralizing support services would create inefficiencies rather than efficiencies.

Their warnings proved to be prescient.

The Daily Californian reports that a 2014 survey of faculty found that half were spending more time on routine matters previously performed by support staff.

According to Panos Papadopoulos, chair of the Academic Senate, survey responses about the performance of CSS were “overwhelmingly negative.”

Sam Davis, professor emeritus of architecture, in a 2015 blog post laid out some of the problems that centralized shared services created.

For one thing, writes Davis, “Placing 600 University employees on 4th Street (two miles from campus) was problematic from the beginning.”

“Separating the management and administration from its academic and intellectual enterprise undermines a main motivation for employees, creates a caste system, and limits collaborative problem solving. We are not making widgets,” writes Davis.

Davis also notes that the separation of CSS support staff from the campus has created more work for staff who remain on campus because interfacing with CSS is so difficult.

Problems created by CSS have, according to Davis, caused some schools and colleges at UC to hire additional staff despite tight budgets.

Davis goes on to write that “it is unclear whether CSS is saving money, but I doubt it.”

“Savings must be offset against the cost of purchasing and operating the new building,” which according to Davis cost $24 million.

In fact the original cost savings estimated by Bain & Company to be $12 million to $15 million a year were subsequently scaled back to about $6 million a year.

In 2014, reported cost savings amounted to $2.1 million.

An opinion piece appearing in the Daily Californian put the implementation of CSS at UC in a much wider context.

According to the opinion piece’s authors, centralized shared services is being implemented on other campuses and in the private sector “across the US economy.”

The effect has been the deskilling and division of  work in order to save money. The cost savings rarely end up resulting in better services, but they do benefit those at the top of the organization.

“The benefits of ‘streamlining,’ ‘efficiencies’ and the like ultimately accrue to the of upper-level managers, who are rewarded for perceived cost-savings at the expense of quality of service,” write the authors, Dan Russell, who works in CSS, Jean Day, the president UPTE, and Lyn Hejinian, a John F. Hotchkis professor of English at UC.

UPTE and Local 2010 said that the petition urging the administration to halt the layoffs is only the first step in the fight to stop the layoffs and prevent future layoffs.

Local 2010 has filed two grievances charging that the layoffs have violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement with UC.

“UC faculty, staff and students have a vested interest in standing together with workers at CSS for a university that serves all our interests — and those of the vast majority of Californians — not simply those of the few who stand to profit from a leaner, less effective and frankly demoralized group of campus workers,” write Russell, Day, and Hejinian.