by Lianna Johnstone
I do believe there is always room for an employer to improve to allow for their employees to have the best work experience possible. In the recent months, there has been a revival of a student-staff alliance to gain more rights for dining hall, grounds, cleaning, and facilities workers. I attended a students and workers for justice meeting early on in the semester and was horrified by the lack of benefits and general respect given to these workers that put their heart and soul into keeping Pitzer fed, functioning and looking as good as it does every day. This article is not to negate or invalidate the hardships and frustrations that workers and students have expressed with the administration, but aims to place another perspective on the table.
I sat down with a senior staff member who spoke from their own experience and observations while working at Pitzer. This is their own opinion and perspective on Pitzer’s employment practices.
During the recent economic downturn, Pitzer was one of the only Claremont colleges that did not lay off any workers and continues to maintain cost of living raises even when other schools have frozen wages. Also, higher-ranking administrators have taken a pay freeze to allow these raises to continue.
Education and Advocacy
If staff apply and are accepted to Pitzer, they can receive two free classes a semester to earn a degree through Pitzer and are allowed three hours off work to attend classes. Pitzer also offers English classes for dining hall and facilities workers.
Pitzer workers elect a Staff Council Representative (SCR) to advocate for them within the administration. The representative is nominated and elected through a process that takes place every two years. Pitzer also has money staff members can apply for if they want to go to a conference or receive more training.
Pitzer also has program for staff to get up to a $2000 loan to buy a new computer. The loan is interest free for 2 years and staff can use the college’s discounts to buy it.
Pitzer also provides staff with the same retirement plan that faculty gets and provides paid family leave benefits for when family members get sick.
There are many events such as a staff appreciation luncheon that takes place a week after graduation where gifts are given away to staff. Pitzer also hosts an annual Christmas party with food and a gift give-away that includes items such as TVs and laptops.
Pitzer offers each staff member the option of obtaining life insurance, Kincare (Pretaxed funds that help pay for Kincare) and health insurance (Pitzer offers different companies and coverage plans.)
Pitzer also extends these benefits to gay partnerships. Also, each year employees are offered a chance to change their health insurance plan.
A worry of some employees is if 90/90/90 health insurance benefit plan is offered, then it will cut into their insurance benefits because the money will have to be redistributed to pay for the more extensive coverage.
Every summer all workers are allowed to leave 30 minutes early, paid. During the summer and winter breaks when students leave, dining hall workers are provided with other jobs around campus in different departments such as the dean of faculty’s office, mailroom, duplicating, and facilities. Pitzer is one of the few schools that keeps from laying off workers during this time.
During winter break, staff are given paid days off between Christmas and January 2.
Pitzer has a seniority policy as well in which when workers are here long enough, they get extensive paid vacation hours, as well as paid sick days. Senior staff get four weeks of paid vacation time a year (not including winter break.) Also, if a staff member has to take a leave of absence, Pitzer will hold their job for up to a year.
Pitzer pays on a scale. There are four pay categories and a low-high range in each category. Those at the lowest end of the pay scale get an extra cost of living and merit pay because the goal is to bring each employee up to the mid-point of the low-high range so that no one is earning in the bottom of their range.
If Pitzer’s employment policies are so horrific, then why does it retain employees for years? One would expect that there would be a high rate of turn over if Pitzer was a horrible employer.
Many people complain about how much Pitzer spends on rebuilding dorms and other buildings on campus but can’t afford to give workers better benefits. From an administrative standpoint, those funds come from donors who request that their donations are spent towards a specific building.
A look into the past
The student-worker alliance is nothing new. Every few years, students work with different staff members to create a union. A few years ago, the dining hall workers successfully unionized, but once they realized they had to pay into the union and follow the union’s rules, they disbanded it.
According to the Claremont Portside, in 2012, President Trombley made $489,000 in total compensation. While this is a high salary for the president of a college with a student body of about 1,100, she also isn’t the complete monster that many paint her to be. Over the years, she has put in many overtime hours where she worked until 10PM and through the weekend, sacrificing valuable time with her son so she could dedicate it to the transformation of Pitzer.
Once again, this article is to not invalidate the feelings and realities of staff members and students, but to show the other side to this struggle. It is important to keep in mind that there does exist a huge power imbalance between administrators and dining hall, facilities, and grounds staff, and many students and workers feel that the realities of the workers are unknown to the student body. I feel that I have heard the workers and students realities and frustrations with the administration, but I feel that it is important to also tell the side that many students haven’t heard yet, the side of a staff member who believes the administration is doing their best to provide for all of its employees. I do believe that both sides are entitled to their feelings and points of view, and I hope that they can come together to compromise so that everyone feels they are being treated fairly.