Following numerous issues with missing or late paychecks reported by University of California employees after the system’s transition to UCPath, the UC will no longer have immunity from “wage theft” penalties after California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill No. 698 into law last Thursday.
The bill, introduced last February, will “ensure that primarily low-wage workers at the UC are paid promptly so that they do not have to wonder how they will pay their bills, keep a roof over their head or food on the table because their paychecks are late,” Senator Connie M. Leyva, who authored the bill, said in a press release.
Effective Jan. 1, 2020, the bill mandates that the UC pay its nearly 140,000 employees on their regularly scheduled payday, or be paid in accordance with university policy if paid on a more frequent basis, according to Tom Hintze, a graduate student at UC Davis and member of UAW 2865.
Despite payment complications resulting from UCPath issues in the past, the UC never faced any wage theft penalties because it is a public sector institution, which doesn’t require employers to pay fines for each payroll violation, Hintze said.
Employees under the umbrella of UCPath looking to file a claim with the payroll system were often forced to wait an unknown sum of weeks, and in some cases, months, to get their paycheck, Hintze said. SB 698, however, allots a five-day period for the payroll system to pay employees in full. Otherwise, employers will be subject to legal action through the Private Attorneys General Act, which enables workers to sue “in order to recoup their wages.”
UC Santa Barbara first implemented UCPath in Fall Quarter 2018, but experienced shortfalls similar to other universities in the UC system when the UC Student Association released a list of demands to provide restitution for student workers affected by the payroll system.
Hintze said he began working for UAW 2865 in spring 2018 but didn’t take notice of UCPath’s “major problems” until May of 2018, when the payroll system was implemented at UC Merced and UC Riverside. Six months later, UCPath migrated to UCSB and UC Los Angeles, where there was “somewhere near a thousand people” who either weren’t paid on time, weren’t paid the right amount or lost benefits in the process, he added.
Students, especially those who often rely on a consistent pay schedule, have been bruised by UCPath’s inconsistent pay periods. In one instance at UCSB, an employee had their car repossessed as a result of “not being paid on time,” he explained.
At UC Berkeley, three employees were greeted with eviction notices after missing two months’ worth of pay due to the payroll system’s inability to accommodate for a shift in pay periods, according to Hintze.
UCPath is expected to continue rolling out through 2020 at other universities such as UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. Hintze stressed the timeliness of SB 698, which he hopes will help prevent a “major disaster like last year” when payroll issues arose from UCPath’s integration at other universities.
UCPath’s migration across the UC system also marks a shift in payroll infrastructure. Hintze acknowledged that payroll problems predated UCPath’s arrival but said they were significantly easier to dispute because those former payroll centers were the respective campuses. Now, the UC has shifted the entire payroll system solely to UC Riverside, but the checks themselves don’t come from there; instead, according to Hintze, checks are “cut” and distributed from out of state, making it even harder to navigate the payroll process.
While SB 698 will not repair any payroll damage incurred before it became law, Hintze said the UAW was successful in settling with the university to compensate every employee affected by UCPath’s payroll errors last February.
“Each worker who was affected was eligible for $150 for each paycheck that [UCPath] had affected. So, the university paid out over $162,000 to student workers in damages,” he said.