Non-union staff offered merit raises, union fights on


Santiago Covarrubias

The decision to reject the college’s Dec. 18 proposal for salary increases was unanimous at a Jan. 21 general membership meeting for the United Staff of Columbia College. The bargaining committee will decide on a counterproposal.

By Associate Editor

While the college administration and the United Staff of Columbia College battle over merit pay at the bargaining table, non-union staff members—including the administration—were offered performance-based salary increases that could be awarded retroactive to Feb. 1.

According to a Jan. 12  email to faculty and staff from Michelle Gates, vice president of Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer, the college allocated 2 percent of the base salary for all eligible full-time staff to be distributed to each department for potential raises.

Those eligible for the raise are staff members, such as managers and administrative assistants, whose positions have not been unionized. Union members as well as other members of the bargaining unit—workers who can be voting members but choose not to—are excluded. According to college spokeswoman Cara Birch, there are 208 eligible full-time, non-union staff including senior administrators up to the president.

Eligible staff members will be measured on a performance rating scale to determine whether they qualify for a raise. Those ranking in the “does not meet expectation” category will receive no raise while those ranking at the highest as “exceptional” are eligible for a 2.5 to 5 percent raise. Other rankings qualify staff members for raises ranging from 1 percent to 2.5 percent raises.

“Salary increases are based on performance reviews and ratings, so they will vary by individual, and are not guaranteed,” Gates said in the email.

Gates was not made available for comment for this story as of press time. 

US of CC, which is nearing its third year of contract negotiations with the college, has publicly rejected a merit pay system without a cost-of-living adjustment first, as reported Nov. 2, 2015, by The Chronicle. The union has long sought across-the-board increases for  its  members, who have not received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2012, according to Nick Hoeppner, US of CC president and an engineer in the Radio Department.

Hoeppner said the timing of the  announcement is “unfortunate” considering the union is still actively negotiating with the college. Hoeppner said he thinks the announcement may have been made public to possibly create concerns among union members.

In an emailed statement, Birch said the college gave the  union’s bargaining committee advanced notice at the bargaining table about the non-union announcement.

“In our continued dialogue with US of CC the college has been very clear—for many months—about moving to a performance-based salary model for its non-union faculty and non-union staff,” Birch said in the emailed statement. “For non-union staff, that program could not be implemented until after the performance review process, which ended Nov. 30.”

The college recently denied the staff union’s proposal of a 5 percent across-the-board increase, offering a counter-proposal in December that was similarly calculated to the amounts that would be divided for the merit system, according to Mary Badger, US of CC negotiation chair and director of Theater Facilities in the Theatre Department.

At a Jan. 21 general membership meeting led by the negotiations team, members were unanimous in their decision to reject the college’s proposal, which according to JeeYeun Lee, development and communications director for the Center for Community Arts Partnerships and secretary of US of CC’s bargaining team, was a 2 percent pool of money to be distributed throughout one year that combines salaries from the bargaining unit’s full-time members who were not hired or who received raises after May 1.

The 2 percent pool would also be subject to change in upcoming years at the discretion of the college. Members at the meeting also decided by an overwhelming show of hands that they want the union to negotiate with the college for a one-year deal with the ability to continue bargaining in the future, instead of going forward proposing a three-year deal that, according to Hoeppner, was rejected. 

While some departments, such as Music and Creative Writing, do not have any non-union staff members, Jennifer Loeb, coordinator of services for the English Department, is the only staff member in her department eligible for the raises.

Loeb, who cannot join the US of CC bargaining unit due to her managerial position, said she is “thrilled” about the possibility of receiving a raise and she feels “lucky” to not be a member of the bargaining unit. Loeb said while she feels comfortable with her ability to earn a raise, she understands the union’s desire for across-the-board raises.

“I would want a sure thing, too, as opposed to something more subjective, unless something more subjective gives me the opportunity for something even larger,” she said. “Personally, I’m someone that’s always working my hardest and trying to be at the top of my game at all times of what people ask of me. I would hope that in the end that would be reflected [in a raise] and be something steady.”

Unlike Loeb, Jennie Fauls, assistant director of the Writing and Rhetoric program who is not a voting member of US of CC, is ineligible for the raises because she is a member of their bargaining unit. She added that she is frustrated she cannot receive a performance-based salary increase, especially because she has chosen not to be a US of CC member.

Fauls said she hopes this announcement will push the union to settle on a compensation deal from the college.

“I hope they will realize that it’s a pie-in-the-sky dream [of 5 percent across-the-board raises],” she said.

The idea that a merit pay system ensures raises for non-union staff is inaccurate, according to Badger, adding that members of the staff bargaining unit should not worry about the college’s deal for non-union staff, and it should not sway their opinion on whether the union should settle with the college for a similar proposal.

“The union members should not be frightened or threatened by this proposal,” she said. “There are many factors at this school other than us who work here. We are on pretty firm footing because we’re still negotiating. They shouldn’t be threatened by this because if they look at it clearly, there is no guarantee that everyone else but us is going to get some sort of raise.”