Student Committee Addresses Staff Wages

Concerns over staff wages and labor conditions at Pomona came to a head last semester when members of the Workers’ Support Committee (WSC) organized an initiative to give staff members an equal voice in the budgeting process. Today, WSC continues to advocate for workers’ rights.

WSC member Alvin Sangsuwangul PO ’10 said the committee is fighting for a reassessment of the college’s values.

“I think that’s what we’re trying to implement through the building of support among students,” he said. “We’re not trying to fight for things for workers.”

Although Brenda Rushforth, the Assistant Vice President of Human Resources, said information regarding the wages of individual employees or employee groups on campus is confidential, she also said Pomona uses the living wage of Los Angeles County, $9.64 per hour, as its minimum payment threshold.

“No one received raises on July 1,” Rushforth said. “Not even the faculty received raises. It’s been a difficult year for Pomona because it’s the first time, to my knowledge, that we haven’t gotten increases.”

There is also controversy regarding on-call workers who were released during the summer.

“Three on-call housekeepers were fired over the summer …some of [whom] were working full time hours,” said WSC’s Nicholas Gerber PO ’10.

Rushforth, on the other hand, said the term “fired” misrepresented the situation. “Three housekeepers from this summer were not fired,” she said. “Any on-call employee is hired as a temporary staff member with no expectation of length of work. Their temporary assignment ended and they were no longer needed due to the current work plan in that department.”

Members of the WSC contend there have been problems with the allocation of summer working hours in the past. However, Rushforth said that this year, every staff person who signed up for summer hours was able to work, with most working more hours than in any previous summer. Additionally, Pomona is implementing a policy of “managed attrition,” in which vacated positions are evaluated and either replaced or carved up and given to existing employees. Members of WSC, however, fear that by reducing the number of staff employees, the administration will unreasonably increase the workload on the remaining employees.

“Ten housekeepers took early retirement … and [the administration] fired three [on-call workers],” Gerber said. “We’re concerned with how they’re going to do the same amount of work …with 13 fewer people.”

To account for this, Rushforth said the administration is testing a “team approach” that evenly distributes the workload of the housekeepers.

Sangsuwangul also raised issue with the staff handbook.

“There are issues with language with policy in general,” he said. “[The administration] has taught their staff handbook, but they won’t translate it into Spanish.”

Rushforth acknowledged this refusal to translate the manual.

“Given that federal and state law regarding employment is all written in English, the College has no plans to have the policy manual translated into Spanish,” Rushforth said.

There is a bilingual staff member that translates policies for employees with questions.

Sangsuwangul also said the attitudes of students on campus presented a problem.

“There is the impression that some people treat [staff] as if they were invisible, and just expect everything to be cleaned up,” Sangsuwangul said.

In calculating workers’ compensation, Pomona cooperates with the other Claremont schools.

“The Claremont colleges together participate in a Claremont college-wide compensation program,” Rushforth said. “The consortium holds all of the benefits together … medical, dental, life insurance. All the workers of all the colleges share the same benefits … among all seven colleges, we have extremely similar policies.”

The Human Relations website enumerates 43 benefits staff members are entitled to, including “child care subsidies, ergonomic work station analysis, tuition remission, and voting leave.”

This cooperation among colleges, Gerber said, can also cause problems.

“[When workers] did get injured, there were problems getting workers’ comp and disability figured out,” he said. “They had to go through the Consortium Disability Office, and the communication between that office and Pomona was not the best, and so people would sometimes get lost trying to navigate that, and would not get the benefits they were entitled to.”

Pomona provides various forums for workers to voice their opinions and suggestions. The school employs an open door policy, which, according to the staff handbook, lets staff members raise issues with their “department chair, director, the assistant vice president of human resources, or the vice president responsible for [their] department.”

There has been controversy about the effectiveness of the policy.

According to the 2005-2006 Diversity Report, “the present structure of grievance officers and our ‘Open Door’ policy is insufficient to address staff complaints about problems in the workplace.”

Gerber added, “the open door policy has generally been seen as a failure by staff.”

Rushforth however, said she saw no problem with the current policy. “Our employees are not shy. If they have a question, they come and ask.”

The college also hosts two forums each year, to which staff members can offer input anonymously or publicly.

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