College increases wages for some entry-level staff positions following calls for higher pay

Employees hope admin will address pay compression next

Students+expressed+support+for+higher+staff+wages+at+a+Dec.+7+protest+in+Mead+Chapel.

BENJY RENTON

Students expressed support for higher staff wages at a Dec. 7 protest in Mead Chapel.

By SABINE POUX

A month after students protested for higher staff pay, the administration has raised its minimum entry-level wages for some staff positions in the lowest pay bands.

Effective December 30, 2019, the increases affect workers in about 80 existing benefits-eligible positions — jobs in which employees work at least half of a full-time work schedule — and raise the starting rates for numerous open positions, most of which fall in Facilities Services and Dining Services. Previously, staff in entry-level Operations Level 1 (OP1), 2 (OP2) and 3 (OP3) positions made $11, $12.07 and $15.22 an hour, respectively. The new minimums fall at $14, $15 and $16 an hour.

The Campus reported in a series of stories last October that insufficient wages were causing widespread discontent among staff in some of the lowest pay bands, spurring some facilities staff to consider unionizing and creating staff shortages in other areas.

Last month, hundreds of students protested in support of paying staff higher wages. In response, the administration reiterated that it would address such concerns with a compensation review meant to gather market data and make the college a more competitive employer. 

That compensation review is slated to finish in late spring. But Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration David Provost said it was already apparent that the review would indicate an issue with entry-level positions. While Provost did not share how many OP1, OP2 and OP3 positions are currently vacant, The Campus previously reported that a large number of openings in certain departments have put significant strain on college staff.

Provost also said the administration thought raising wages now would send a strong message about the college’s priorities, one he feels has been reiterated by various groups across campus, from the student-led protest to conversations at faculty meetings. 

“The messaging I was hearing from faculty, staff and students was that this is our top priority,” Provost said. While the college has known it would need to address low pay for a long time, the extensive support for higher wages allowed it to circumvent “a lengthy conversation about prioritization” and to commit those dollars now.

When asked where the college found the money for the wage increases, Provost chuckled. “I haven’t yet,” he said. But since the budget for fiscal year 2021 goes into effect this July, the college will only need to find extra funds to tide itself over for half the year. Any changes made following the spring compensation review will be factored into the new budget.

Provost explained that the college determined the amounts for the wage increases based on market data from comparable positions in the area. The college had originally only committed to reexamining OP1 and OP2 jobs, but included OP3 wages in its adjustment as pay increases excluding OP3 would have placed OP2 wages only 22 cents below OP3 rates.

Pay compression

Every staff member The Campus interviewed for this story said they were glad to see the college raise at least some wages earlier than expected, but many are concerned that those changes only impact employees in entry-level positions. The raises create an issue known as pay compression, in which more senior employees who have received incremental annual raises for years will not receive raises because their wages exceed the new minimums — sometimes only slightly. 

Waste management/custodial employee Brenda Hansen has been working at the college since 2001. Over the last 19 years, her pay has increased to $15.78 an hour.

Hansen’s job is classified in the OP2 band, in which the new entry-level minimum rate is $15. She said she feels she has “fallen between the cracks,” and thinks the college should have refrained from increasing entry-level wages until it could increase wages for all employees in the affected pay bands. 

“People are going to be starting in here making 78 cents less than what I have been making,” she said. “I’m dedicated employee. I’ve worked hard.”

When she inquired about pay compression in an email to the Office of Human Resources, Hansen was told the college is aware of the issue and will make decisions on the matter following the compensation review, in “several more months.” The email emphasized that the college had to focus its efforts on starting salaries first to “attract and retain” employees.

Provost told The Campus he thinks addressing compression pay will be an important next step for the college.

“The next couple months for the people in that compression area are going to be difficult,” Provost said. “I’m going to ask for their patience. And I hope that our ability to do this now shows that this is what we want to do.”

Atwater Dining cook Patti McCaffrey said the administration told staff at a meeting last fall that it would probably have to look at compression issues soon. She said Executive Director of Food Services Dan Detora also acknowledged pay compression would be a problem when he visited the dining halls the morning before the announcement about the wage increases was made.

Landscape worker Todd Weedman is somewhat optimistic that the college will address compression come spring.

“I think a lot of people are upset about compression, and I understand that and I get it,” Weedman said. “But I know they’re working on it. I’m willing to take them at their word for it and I think we will see something as we move forward.”

Others, frustrated by what they identify as repeated patterns of bad communication, are not confident the administration will raise their wages. One facilities employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, is concerned that the administration’s decision was just for show. He did not receive a wage increase because he was earning slightly above the increased minimum in his pay band.

“That email is all smoke and mirrors,” he said. “It’s a decoy. Because now students think the college followed through and everyone’s happy.” 

Staff largely credit students for putting pressure on the administration to address wages. In multiple interviews, they repeatedly brought up how grateful they were for students’ displays of concern. One of the co-organizers of the December student-led protest, Celia Gottlieb ’21.5, said she does not feel the change adequately addresses underlying institutional issues.

“It is a shame that this issue has only seen progress after student involvement,” she said in an email to The Campus. “This is an issue staff members have raised for the past three years without making much headway.” Gottlieb and others said this is a start on a longer road toward better staff treatment.

Many workers, like Facilities Service Floater Isaac Larocque, say the change indicates more broadly how the college treats its long-term employees.

“Seniority doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “How can somebody who’s been here 20 years, or 10 years, just be left in the dust?”

The Campus will continue following the story as the college moves forward with its compensation review.

Managing Editor James Finn ‘20.5 contributed reporting.

Editor’s note: The Campus has granted anonymity to a number of sources in a series of stories about staff pay and treatment. Granting anonymity is not a practice we take lightly, but we feel the sensitive nature of the subject matter and some employees’ fears for retaliation warrant anonymity in these cases.

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