US of CC members oppose merit-based pay system


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Nick Hoeppner, president of US of CC, said the college is considering the idea of merit-based pay for staff this semester. 

By Campus Reporter

More than 40 members of the United Staff of Columbia College, the college’s staff union, gathered Oct. 28 in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building to discuss a merit-based pay system which the administration hopes to adopt for staff at the college. 

Nick Hoeppner, president of the US of CC and an engineer in the Radio Department, said merit-based pay is one of the many issues the US of CC faces, along with ongoing contract negotiations, in which the union is advocating for cost-of-living increases for staff.

“It has been a lot of talk [from the college], and we have not seen a lot of results,” said Hoeppner, who added another problem is transparency.

The college commissioned a job classification study Feb. 9 to evaluate positions at the college and create a more cohesive system for pay and job titles for staff workers, as reported March 2 by The Chronicle. The study was set to be completed in June, but the college now says the results will  not be available until December, Hoeppner said, adding there has not been any  restructuring of job titles or pay. 

The Oct. 28 meeting included a discussion about the pros and cons of merit-based pay systems and a Q&A session for union members, according to Ramona Gupta, coordinator of Asian-American Cultural Affairs.

A merit-based pay system is one in which employees are given a base salary and then, based on performance evaluations, are given raises if their work has met certain criteria, said Paula Brien, a union member and a college advisor for the Radio and Journalism programs. 

“What we have discovered is the plan [for merit-based pay] as designed and as communicated is full of holes and unknowns,” Brien said. “The plan does not have what you might call best practices for a merit pay system.”

Cara Birch, spokeswoman for the college, said the college does support a merit-based pay system.

Ed Ballinger, a union member and media network engineer in the Television Department, said he does not support merit pay. 

“I do not feel like the little information we have is enough to make a decision to say yes,” Ballinger said.

Hoeppner said there was a merit pay system for staff when he began working at the college in 2005. 

“It was very disastrous on a lot of levels, and a lot of people felt there was no method to the madness of how it went,” Hoeppner said. 

The college would have to negotiate with US of CC to put merit pay in their contracts, Hoeppner said.

JeeYeun Lee, development and communications director for the Center for Community Arts Partnerships and secretary of US of CC’s bargaining team, said it is an important issue for members to discuss.

“Salaries have historically been low at the college and are not consistent,” Lee said. “Anything related to pay is really important to members.”

Before union members can consider merit-based pay, there would have to be a cost-of-living increase to staff salaries, Gupta said.

US of CC members are working under a 2012 contract that has been renewed twice because a new contract, which staff are advocating for to include a cost-of-living increase, has not been negotiated, Hoeppner said.

“[The college and the union] are still regularly meeting at the bargaining table,” Hoeppner said. 

Staff have not received a significant salary increase for years, Gupta said. 

“With [the] rate of inflation, that means we are losing money every year we stay here,” Gupta said. “That really affects our ability to live the lives that we want to live. [Merit based pay] should not even be a part of the conversation yet.”