Income inequality was the buzzword of the 2016 Presidential Election, with Bernie Sanders coming from nowhere to close in on the Democratic Party’s nomination by his consistent emphasis on the disparity between the one-percent and the rest of us. In higher education, increased tuition, increased spending and the need for more financial aid at many colleges and universities has underscored this income disparity. The level of debt has put thousands of students and their parents at financial risk and threatens the issue of long term fiscal viability of those institutions.
Nationally, there are many reasons for this income chasm, but it often begins with inequitable treatment in the workplace, where labor contracts can and should help to level the playing field.
Sometimes, however, the employer will actually make it worse.
Consider the situation at the Coast Community College District – and the way the administration has treated its classified employees in negotiating wages and benefits for those workers. In California, virtually all K-12 and community college employees, with the exception of faculty are classified employees. The maintenance crews, the cafeteria workers, the clerical employees, the staff who work in Admissions and Records, in Financial Aid, in Veterans’ Affairs are all classified employees, as are the women and men who assist disabled students to get around the campus, take notes and “hear” the classroom lectures.
These employees have not received a raise in eight years although faculty and management have, and even the Board of Trustees voted themselves a 5% raise this year while continuing to deny any raise to classified employees. And, the District has paid tens of thousands of dollars for studies comparing the wages of the classified employees to those in other comparable community college districts. That study told the District that it was underpaying many of its classified employees, yet the District has continued to refuse to raise the classifieds’ wages, which begs the question why the District spent the money on the study to begin with?
In its continuing pattern of divergent treatment, the representatives of the Board of Trustees have insisted that the classified employees, who, by and large, are paid significantly less than administrative and faculty personnel, take cuts to their retirement, additional health benefits cuts and changes to long and short term disability, although the same demands were not made of the faculty or management. In fact, the District agreed to a three-year status quo on health benefits for faculty.
Fairness demands that the District treat its employees, who are also taxpayers and members of the Orange County community, equitably. Eight years is long enough to wait for a raise, when others have received pay increases. The Coast Community College District has to treat its classified employees with respect, dignity and evenhandedness.
Nate Banditelli, Executive Director, Coast Federation of Classified Employees, AFT Local 4794. The Coast Federation of Classified Employees, AFT Local 4794, represents over 700 classified professionals who support students in the Coast Community College District.
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