TCU Daily Skiff Friday, April 23, 2004
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Employee wages debated by task force, Chancellor Boschini
Staff members are looking for ways to battle problems in the university’s wage system.

By Marco Lopez

Many university staff members have to work two jobs to meet their basic needs, staff members say.

Gerardo Ramirez, who has worked as a groundskeeper for 10 years, said there are many employees struggling just to survive.

“I’ve had two jobs since I started here, and I can make you a list of all the people that work two jobs to be able to make it,” Ramirez said. “I hope they do something. It’s hard.”

A group of 16 staff members are trying to do something. They are working to design a five-year plan to solve problems in the university’s wage system and improve employees’ benefits, said Carol Campbell, vice chancellor for finance and administration.

“I think the need has been recognized in multiple areas,” Campbell said. “Compensation is and has been a long-standing issue of discussion at the Staff Assembly, the Budget Advisory Committee, again, a number of places.”

Staff members from areas such as the Physical Plant, student affairs, extended education, the library and advancement, among others, are meeting biweekly as part of the Staff Compensation Task Force to recommend changes to the compensation system.

Under former Chancellor Michael Ferrari, entering hourly employees went from earning $5.73 to $8 over a period of five years. In response to a request from the Staff Assembly, Chancellor Victor Boschini created a representative staff task force in the fall to set priorities for solving the different compensation issues.

Tara Pope, a task force member, said currently more than 250 employees earn less than $20,000 a year.

“While progress has been made, some housekeepers, administrative assistants, groundskeepers and others cannot live on TCU wages and must have second jobs and or receive some kind of government assistance,” Pope said.Campbell said compensation is a major issue because administrators have to use limited resources to accomplish many things. Compensation pays for salaries, raises and the Tuition Assistance Program, as well as health and retirement benefits. University officials also try to reduce wage compression, a problem created when newly-hired employees earn nearly as much money as their senior co-workers and supervisors.

Ruben Ayala, a painter who has worked for 15 years at the Physical Plant, said he thinks he has not received fair raises compared with other employees.

“I’ve worked here for 15 years, and other employees who have been here for two years are making as much as I am,” Ayala said. “Sometimes I’ve even had to train them how to paint, and they are making as much as I do.”

John Weis, vice chancellor for human resources, said that in the past 10 years, administrators have tried to tackle problems in the wage system on a case-by-case basis.

“We haven’t taken care of everything that we need to take care of in compensation,” Weis said. “The interest is in putting together a plan that looks realistically at what we can do over the next five years for staff compensation.” Pope said insurance costs are hitting employees’ pockets very hard.

“The act of purchasing family health insurance shaves off $2.28 per hour, reducing an $8 an hour employee to $5.72 an hour,” Pope said.

In 1999, insurance costs represented 1.2 percent of the annual budget, Campbell said. In 2005, insurance would represent 3.2 percent of the budget, she said.

Campbell and Weis said administrators are considering joining with 27 other schools to create an insurance corporation that would reduce increasing health-care costs for employees.

Boschini said administrators should have looked at that option sooner.

“This is something that should have been done 10 years ago,” Boschini told faculty senators April 8. “I just think it would have been a good idea for all of the private schools in Texas to do this years ago, as I believe it might have saved all of us some money along the way.”

Campbell said administrators are trying to deal with the increased cost of benefits, such as health insurance and the Tuition Assistance Program. She said benefits have had a double-digit increase in the current annual budget.Without joining the corporation, TCU employees’ insurance premiums would increase 14 percent to 20 percent, Weis said. If TCU joins, employees’ premiums would go up about 6 percent, he said.

Last semester, administrators approved changes to the Tuition Assistance Program to help reduce the cost of benefits granted. Weis said despite efforts to reduce expenses, the cost of employees’ benefits will increase about $2 million next school year.

Weis said the task force is studying the wage system and analyzing several compensation philosophies that could be adopted, such as the living wage, a philosophy that would pay each employee enough to support a family of four.

Pope, a horticultural assistant, said she would like the task force to examine TCU’s salaries in light of the mission statement.“I support a wage philosophy that recognizes we are all members of the TCU community and should be aware that currently some members are not earning enough to live on,” Pope said. “I think reconsidering our wage philosophy is necessary in aligning our mission statement and our budget.”

David Grebel, director of Extended Education, said employees want opportunities to advance both within salary ranks and in terms of job opportunities on campus.

Weiscq said administrators have not been successful in their battle to solve the problems because of insufficient funds. He said a comprehensive plan has to be developed to address the issues.Campbell said the task force should be done with its work by mid-fall 2004, because that is when administrators start developing the annual budget for the 2006-2007 school year. She said university officials will pay close attention to the task force’s recommendations.
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