Northern Michigan University has been locked in contract negotiations with the 1950 United Auto Workers (UAW) since July 2011. Almost a year and a half later, the two parties have not reached an agreement.
In an interest-based bargaining process, each side makes an offer and the other considers that offer. While time is needed to weigh the options, the time it is taking the university to settle the 1950 UAW contract is erring on absurdity.
The 1950 UAW represents 150 NMU employees, 138 of whom are female. These workers help communicate within and between departments on campus. They are seeking a new contract that would allow them to break even in regards to pay.
The issue at hand is primarily about health care coverage, a cost which has risen all across the country. The university has proposed a contract that would switch health coverage to a plan with a $2,600 premium—an $1,100 increase in cost to the 1950 UAW employees.
This cost would cut into the gross pay of these dedicated workers, some of whom make less than $10 an hour. An increase in health care premiums would amount to a 34 cents an hour loss in pay for 1950 UAW members at NMU.
These workers are some of the lowest paid on campus. According to the Northern Michigan University 1950 UAW Senority list from July 2012, the calculated median wage of secretary and clerical workers is $13.49 per hour.
The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that the median pay for secretaries and administrative assistants is $16.66 per hour, 19 percent more than the median pay for 1950 UAW members here on campus.
NMU has settled contracts with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), 2178 United Auto Workers (UAW) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The negotiations with the 1950 UAW have gone on much longer than those with any of these other unions.
The university’s contract proposals have sought to minimize the cost of health care for the university by passing the cost onto the employees, digging into their take-home pay which they use to take care of their families and pay their bills.
The difference between the other unions on campus and the 1950 UAW is that the percentage of annual income affected by the increase in health care costs is much higher for 1950 UAW employees.
During hard economic times, it is understandable for the university to try and cut its costs. By creating a contract that puts an additional $1,100 onto the backs of employees who already make considerably less than others on campus, it is cutting costs in an area that does not amount to substantial savings.
With 150 members, saving $1,100 per person would sum to $165,000 of savings annually. The 2011-12 NMU Financial Report indicated that the “Operating and non-operating expenses of $155.2 million for the year ended June 30, 2012 decreased by $1.9 million and includes a $2.8 million decrease in salaries, wages, and benefits.”
I commend the university for tightening its belt and cutting costs, but by giving the 1950 UAW a 53 cents an hour raise, it will allow 1950 UAW workers to cover the cost of health care so that those workers break even in regards to gross pay. The aforementioned $165,000 of savings amounts to roughly six percent of the $2.8 million that was the result of decreased salaries, wages and benefits.
Workers on campus deserve adequate pay that reflects their worth. Be they professors, janitors, maintenance workers or secretaries, these people deserve a fair wage.
Cutting the 1950 UAW wage by 34 cents shows that the university dismisses the needs of the lowest wage earners on campus.
I encounter these secretaries every day. The English Department’s secretary, Angela McCabe, is the glue that holds her department together. She coordinates schedules, keeps in contact with other departments and answers a myriad of questions brought to her everyday.
Cara Kamps, the principle secretary for the Superior Edge program, juggles work and family, but she still has time to help out Platform Personalities, a group of which I am co-president. For our Max Brooks event that took place on Tuesday, Oct. 23, she put up posters all over campus, adorning them with stickers that read “tonight.”
This is not a part of her job description, but she does it on top of everything else.
Bernadette Norden is another one of these secretaries: she is also known as the woman who helps manage student organizations on campus, while making sure we all land on the other side of chaos.
Without these individuals, there is no NMU, or at least not one that runs with any kind of productivity and order.
NMU can afford to give the 1950 UAW enough money in their new contract to offset the rising cost of health care.
These individuals have earned a raise, and with all they do for the university, it is a wonder why they have been locked in negotiations this long.
The character of NMU can be measured by those who work and learn within its buildings. There are 150 people that contribute to making this campus a truly great place.
The university should recognize them and give them the paltry sum they are asking for.
For almost a year and a half, it has been an all right day to be a Wildcat for members of the 1950 UAW. The university should come to its senses and give the secretaries and clerical workers on campus the raise they so deserve.
It will be a great day to be a Wildcat when the 1950 UAW contract is ratified.