The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

UCD Responds by Pitting Workers Against Fee Increase

In an article in Dateline UC Davis, the university said that it wanted to hear from the students "who pay the bills" regarding the demands of food workers efforts to become university employees.

On the one hand, according to the article,
"Sodexho already announced that it has established an independent third-party grievance system, introduced the UC Davis Principles of Community to employees and boosted wages consistent with UC's recent pay increases for its lowest-paid workers."
In a Sodexho letter dated May 18 and posted online with [Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Janet] Gong's, the company's senior vice president, Bill Lacey, pointed out that the company in 2003 voluntarily elected to follow the Sacramento Living Wage policy, and that the company believes "our compensation is competitive within our industry."
On the other hand,
"The university estimates the cost of providing improved wages and more affordable benefits to Sodexho workers at $2.1 million annually."
Janet Gong, the interim head of Student Affairs suggests the following:
"This is a significant recurring cost that cannot readily be absorbed within the existing university budget."

She added that the burden of paying the extra cost would likely fall on students who rely on Sodexho service in the dining halls and elsewhere on campus. "Being mindful of the additional costs our students would face and consistent with the chancellor's commitment to address these issues, we are exploring a variety of strategies to improve wages and benefits."
The university then gives a third set of numbers.
"Gong also gave an estimate of the cost of converting Sodexho workers to the UC Davis payroll: a minimum of $3.2 million a year, including wages and benefits, administrative costs and capital expenses."

The effect of that increase would be a $600 per year increase in the cost of residence hall fees.
Of course the bottom line for the university is:
Gong noted that the university has a contract with Sodexho through 2010, and "we have chosen to honor this contract and seek ways within it to approach the compensation and employment practices that are at issue."
And that's fine, as we found out last week, the university can of course honor their contract while at the same time pay these people better wages and better benefits.

This entire debate makes me extremely uncomfortable--the idea that the university is now pitting students against low-wage employees.

So let us recap what the university is saying. First, they give us the line that Sodexho is going to raise their wages. But at the same time, they tell us that in order to make their pay commensurate with the entry-level university employees and give them benefits that commensurate with entry-level university employees it is going to cost $2.1 million to the university.

These are people who do not make enough money to live in Davis. These are people who then have to take $450 or so out of their earnings if they want health coverage. And the university is admitting that they are balancing their books right on the backs of these workers.

Moreover, now they are trying to pit students against workers, by threatening students with tuition or residence hall increases if these workers are to be fully compensated for the work that they do. So this issue is going to become a wedge between students and the workers--students who are already facing a sizable fee and tuition increase because of budget shortfalls statewide. And the university wants to use this to break the will of the strike. Of course, somehow other universities in the UC system have managed their budgets while paying food service workers university pay and benefits. I wonder how they have managed that?

Now this article in some ways sounds informative, but it leaves out crucial pieces of information.

First, what is the overall university budget? The $3.2 million sounds like a lot of money, but is it? What percentage of the overall budget is it?

Second, it seems to assume that the money would increase in a lump sum, what would happen if you could phase it in over a couple of years while at the same time finding room in the budget to mitigate some of the costs?

Third, how much money goes to upper administration? They want to balance the budget on the backs of those making $8 an hour rather than those making 200K plus per year. Perhaps the students should have a say in that, whether the food service workers should get that $2.1 or $3.2 million or the upper administration. I wonder who would win in that fight?

The bottom line is very simple, when the university wants something they find ways to get money for it. When the university does not want something, they find excuses not to fund it and they try to play political games. The amazing thing is that the university has basically admitted how much they are cheating these entry-level workers out of sizable salary and benefits.

Chancellor Vanderhoef and the university administration are clearly in violation of UC Davis' Principles of Community, which state that "...each of us has an obligation to the community of which we have chosen to be a part." By pinning workers against students, that undermines that obligation and sense of community.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting