US of CC continues fight for cost-of-living increase


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By Campus Reporter

after three years of bargaining with the college, Columbia’s staff union still may not see cost-of-living raises in its upcoming contract, according to statements made by President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim at the Nov. 6 Breakfast with the President meeting.

Kim said at the meeting that the college’s enrollment must increase before Columbia can afford to grant cost-of-living raises, according to Cat Bromels, the print services manager in the Design Department and vice president of the United Staff of Columbia College, who attended the meeting.

According to Bromels, Kim said the college cannot afford cost-of-living raises, which are given at the same rate across the board, but members of Columbia’s administration have expressed support for a merit-based pay system for staff members in which raises are tied to performance reviews. As reported Nov. 2 by The Chronicle, the US of CC has opposed this.

JeeYeun Lee, development and communications director for the Center for Community Arts Partnerships and secretary of the US of CC, said Kim’s statement is upsetting in the context of merit pay.

“If [the college] finds money for merit pay and not for cost-of-living increases, the staff will be very upset,” Lee said. 

On Nov. 18, US of CC posted a petition on calling for Michelle Gates, the CFO and vice president of business affairs, to grant staff an annual 5 percent cost-of-living salary increase. 

“Over the past six years, the cost of living in Chicago has gone up 14 percent,” the US of CC petition stated. “Columbia has given staff salary increases that amount to only 5 percent.”

As of press time, the petition had 69 supporters. 

Under a renewed contract from 2012, the US of CC has been advocating for a cost-of-living increase but failed to reach an agreement, as reported Nov. 2 by The Chronicle.

Cara Birch, the college’s spokeswoman, said a performance-based salary increase system would attract and retain talented staff.

According to 2014 data provided by the US of CC, staff salaries at the college range from $27,318–$83,000 a year with the majority of staff earning between $30,000–$50,000 a year. 

Due to the lack of salary increases, staff making $40,000 per year have lost $15,000 throughout the last six years, according to the petition from US of CC.

Lee said staff salaries are not competitive, and most staff members would make more money working elsewhere in their field.

“The [pay] scale has been low in relation to positions both at other higher education institutions as well as in the industries each department is a part of,” Lee said. 

Nick Hoeppner, president of the US of CC and an engineer in the Radio Department, said if the college can afford merit-based raises, cost-of-living increases should not be out of the question. Having funds for one but not the other “creates a double standard,” he said. 

A cost-of-living increase of 5 percent for staff at the college would be 0.6 percent of the college’s budget, according to a flyer from the US of CC about staff contracts.

“A cost-of-living adjustment should be considered part of the cost of doing business,” Lee said. “A budget is a reflection of an institution’s priorities, and it is clear that the staff is not a priority.”