“Over the past ten years, while the college has experienced structural and financial challenges due to declining enrollment, it is our staff who are facing the difficulties and challenges of trying to make ends meet and properly serve our students with declining resources. We believe that the principal challenge in these upcoming negotiations is to negotiate a contract that takes full account of the needs of our staff members and recognizes our contributions to the College at time of retrenchment by the College.
Columbia has undergone several reorganizations, which has included selling at least 4 buildings, resulting in new revenue of more than one hundred million dollars, The College has also saved money through the consolidation of departments, centralization of operations, 2 employee buyouts, the freezing of vacant positions, and the layoff of more than 150 of our fellow staff members, many of whom had devoted many years of service to the College. These cost-cutting measures have made union staff positions more vulnerable. Today, Union positions make up less than 18% of persons employed by Columbia.
With each layoff or job elimination, our remaining staff members are required to take on additional duties.
HR tells us that our increased workload is considered “in the scope of our job descriptions” and therefore staff is not entitled to additional financial compensation. Productivity and morale begin to suffer under these conditions, and we would like these negotiations to address this problem.
In a report shared with us, the administration has stated it will spend over 25 million dollars to upgrade equipment, facilities, increase marketing and double student scholarships. We believe that these dollars also need to be committed to our staff and to the student services that we provide.
One of Dr. Kim’s promises to the college community when he began his tenure, was to promote the concept of shared sacrifice from among all levels of the College. We took that to mean that all levels of the administrative staff would share the burden of layoffs and cost reductions. Yet each year, since 2013, the staff has comprised a substantial majority — usually up to 80 to 90 percent of those laid off and the number of staff positions has dropped significantly. Yet we can’t help but notice that the upper administration continues to grow in size along with the number of outside consultants hired to support these new initiatives.
This Summer, Union leadership surveyed and met with members in small groups to discuss their needs and concerns. We learned a lot. The work they do for students is rewarding and it is the reason they enjoy their jobs and why they choose to work here. The staff are also proud and have unwavering support for their union. Their top financial concerns are the cost of their health care, the preservation of their benefits, and salaries–which continue to lag. This salary crisis requires that many staff members obtain a second job or look for a better-paying first job.
For a while, we could absorb more work, but there is a limit, and we have reached that tipping point. The staff is cut to the bone. Some staff take work home, stay late as they are committed to the College and its mission, yet we are told there is no overtime. Most staff are becoming discouraged and disheartened. Understaffed departments are seeing a noticeable rise in turn-over rates. They are frustrated with their managers who promise them more pay, but months later learn their managers don’t have the authority to make financial offers.
A dedicated staff is invaluable. We are the ones on the ground with vital institutional knowledge. Staff members are often the first faces that our students and their families see, or speak with or email. Staff members are the ones who make sure Columbia is showcased beautifully – from events to our campus in the heart of one of the world’s great cities. This is our value and this is how we see our role.
We are deeply committed, deeply devoted and ready to partner in good faith with our administration leadership, and with all of the Columbia College family. It is in our interest to see the College grow, to see it succeed and to be a part of that success.
We want our students to go out in the world and make a difference. And while we are enormously proud of the work we do, we want to be full participants, fully engaged and aligned with Columbia’s future, and fully able to build a good life for ourselves and our families.