Nearly 30 student, staff and service workers gathered around the Bell Tower on Jan. 31 in protest of the anticipated UC two-tier pension plan effective July 1. Demonstrators voiced their opposition to changes to retiree benefits by marching around the Bell Tower, giving passionate speeches, scrawling chalk phrases on the ground and putting on dance performances to mobilize passing pedestrians.

With UC administration in the midst of collective bargaining negotiations, systemwide demonstrations occurred at all 10 campuses on Thursday, according to a press release by organizers AFSCME 3299, UC’s Service and Patient Technical Workers union, which represents over 22,000 workers systemwide.

On the same day, the AFSCME’s contract with the UC system ended, yet negotiations over retiree benefits and wages continue. “This is really about UC not getting its priorities straight,” said AFSCME 3299 Executive Director Liz Perlman. “Enough is enough. We want to see UC take care of the people that do the work.”

Starting July 2013, the UC Retirement Plan (UCRP) will consist of two-tier workers: current and long-term employees vs. new employees hired after that date. Current and long-term employees must contribute 6.5 percent of wages—an increase of 1.5 percent from 2012—and new employees will pay 7 percent into their pension plan. Approximately half of all current employees fall under changes to new retiree benefits.

Dianne Klein, a UC spokesperson, referred to the increase in employee contributions as a means to sustain systemwide pensions.

The UC faces a $24 billion unfunded pension and health care liability, seeking financial stability through increased employee contributions. Concerns have arisen over workers with different contribution levels, which creates a skewed sense of UC prioritization to tier one over secondary tier workers.

“We’re not just here for the workers, we’re here for the students…we also want to get an economical range pay, we want to be in the same pay range as the other colleges,” said UCR union leader Leo Tolliver about the immersing wage inequality as a divisive factor throughout the 10 campuses.

Many protesters felt stymied by the UC’s lack of support for low wage workers, who often endure poor work conditions despite stacking workloads, increasing student enrollment and expanding class sizes.

To prop up spirits, short speeches and dance performances occasionally took place during the demonstration. The protesters marched around the Bell Tower and chanted phrases such as “Si se puede,” “Whose university? Our university” and “Power to the people.”

Second-year political science major Mary Ramos participated in the demonstration through her involvement in labor union organizations at UCR.

“It’s unfair because it is their rights as worker to get better pay [equivalent to other campuses],” said Ramos. “Just to keep in mind that the workers are the ones who make the universities function properly and without them, the university wouldn’t be as well-rounded as it is.”