By: Michael Crabtree, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Red & Black Contributor and
John P. Lambertson, Ph.D., Edith M. Kelso Chair, Professor of Art History, Red & Black Contributor"
DEC. 5 - As educators who have collectively spent 80 years in the pursuit of knowledge and truth, we aim to clarify and contextualize content presented in the Opinion Section of the Oct. 31 edition of the Red and Black. Here at Washington & Jefferson College, our Facilities workers, who are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), made a compelling case for a fair contract. We applaud our coworkers for standing up for fairness and truth in face of power. W&J’s CFO Jim Irwin responded, alleging to “set the record straight by providing factual information,” but offered misinformation.
Consider Irwin’s claim that “our Facilities Employees lost no wages or benefits during the pandemic.” In fact, President Knapp and CFO Irwin cut retirement benefits for all employees in September 2020. In response, the SEIU filed a grievance and won; only then were W&J Facilities Workers’ retirement benefits reinstated. The administration retaliated by cutting their hours to 35 from 40 per week. In the interest of accuracy, we note the College later restored those lost hours.
"Faculty and non-union staff also suffered cuts to healthcare benefits – not once but twice – drastically reducing the quality of our healthcare and moving us to a high deductible plan."
Irwin also rejected SEIU’s salary demands, because they were larger than increases provided to other W&J employees. Irwin claimed, “The College does not believe this is fair, as we value all employees equally.” Of course, words are cheap, and actions reveal values. If employees were valued equally, all employees would receive equal benefits. Although union employees had their retirement benefits reinstated after winning a union grievance, the College kept retirement cuts in place for all non-union employees, including faculty, for academic year 20-21. In the following year, the College restored only 25 percent of retirement benefits.
Faculty and non-union staff also suffered cuts to healthcare benefits – not once but twice – drastically reducing the quality of our healthcare and moving us to a high deductible plan. The SEIU has worked successfully to preserve union health care benefits, which are now far superior to non-union employees. To be clear, we are not advocating that the College cut our Facilities' coworkers’ benefits. Rather, we point to the disparity to underscore, contrary to CFO Irwin’s claim, that the College does not value all employees equally. Appealing to “equality” to justify its position on compensation is disingenuous.
Severe cuts to non-union retirement and health care coincided with a dizzying rate of growth in administration. The College created several new positions for Associate Deans and Directors, and the total compensation of the top four head administrators is approximately 1.2 million dollars. In contrast, some administrators at other colleges demonstrated ethical leadership by taking voluntary pay cuts during the pandemic to support their employees’ retirement plans.
"The College created several new positions for Associate Deans and Directors, and the total compensation of the top four head administrators is approximately 1.2 million dollars."
According to Irwin, the College values all employees equally. If the College wishes to support this statement with actions, President Knapp and CFO Irwin could provide each non-union employee with a one-time payment of 14 percent of their salary to their retirement plan to compensate for the cuts from academic years 2020-22. Additionally, they could return non-union employees’ health care to the pre-pandemic plan.
The following article is an Opinions piece that contains opinions of the writer. Opinions pieces are not always representative of the Red & Black Student Newspaper as a whole.