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Dining Service Wage Disputes Prompt Poster War

Zita Petrahai ’18, Managing Editor

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A student-made poster comparing the wages of Dining Services Staff members and the Cumberland County living wage put up on Tuesday, April 25, prompted Human Resources (HR) to circulate a counter-poster correcting statistical inaccuracies presented on the first posters.

The initial poster is one part of an on-going petition that has reached 442 signatures out of the target 500 by print time.

The poster, made by Kayla Kahan ’18, was based on research she had done in the spring 2016 semester. The posters understate hourly wage levels for Dickinson Dining Services employees and overstate the living wage for adults in Cumberland County. Kahan later acknowledged the errors on her poster, however by the end of April 25 Kahan’s petition had received more than 400 signatures.

Kahan initiated her research after she observed several employees making use of Project Share, where she was volunteering as part of her Environmental Connections class in Spring 2016.

According to Project Share’s website, the organization provides food assistance to people in Carlisle, Carlisle Springs, Boiling Springs and a number of other towns. In order to qualify, applicants’ household incomes “must be less than 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 2017 Poverty Guideline is $12,060 for single-member households.

When presented with this information, both Vice President for Finance and Administration Bronte Burleigh-Jones, and Director for Dining Services Errol Huffman, stated that they had no knowledge of employees utilizing Project Share.

“…we voiced our concern [to Huffman] and he told us that this was a concern of his too but because we don’t rent out the dining services, because it’s all in-house they only get the amount of money that the school allows them to, so their hands are tied in terms of budgeting.”

Huffman did not confirm or deny by print time whether this meeting took place.

According to Burleigh-Jones, the college currently allocates $3.7 million for wages of dining services employees, with an additional $1.3 million allocated for benefits and payroll taxes, putting the total compensation budget at a total of $5 million for dining services workers.

According to Burleigh-Jones, the dining services budget is dependent on the number of positions and hours of labor; the number of students, workers, utility personnel and catering servers, among others, that will be needed to keep operations functioning; the rates of compensation and the overall constraints on Dickinson are taken into account.

Following an additional meeting with the HR department, during which she was informed that the payment system was going to be restructured, Kahan went abroad for the fall 2016 semester, and did not pick up the project until spring 2017 for another one of her class projects.

The restructuring mentioned by HR referred to an effort by the college, part of which included an effort by Burleigh-Jones to interview Dining Services staff over the course of six months in the 2014-15 year. This then led to the reorganization of staff. The interviews were also led by Huffman, Steve Riccio, associate vice president of HR and members of Sibson Consulting, an external firm that was hired to create a comprehensive staff salary and benefits study.

According to Arlene Bones, director of HR, several factors were used in evaluating what pay rate each position should have. These included, among others, the education level required, the task that each job entailed and whether or not the position included physical labor. According to Huffman, Sibson also had access to databases of other colleges and universities across the country, enabling them to balance “the private market with the industry market.” According to Jones, this allowed the college to create “competitive salaries.” According to a Power Point presentation, Staff Salary Structure Update, created for departmental meetings for March and April 2017, no salaries were cut as a result of the study. The job descriptions were also rewritten following the study.

Following her return to campus, Kahan then decided to resurrect her project.

“I’m taking a course called ‘Organizing for Sustainable Social Change’…the culminating project is that you’re supposed to take one step toward a social movement,” she stated. “So, I had already done all this background research and already put in this ground work last year so I thought that this would be a… way for me to get this moving again.”

Kahan made the posters and created an online petition, titled “Fight for Fair and Equal Wages at Dickinson College,” with the data she had already gathered. She then distributed the posters on Tuesday, April 25. The next day, Burleigh-Jones emailed Kahan to ask for a meeting. That day a second set of posters, created by the office of HR, were also hung up. This set of posters depicted the correct information for Dining Services Staffing and Salary for the 2017 year.

Kahan’s poster misrepresents average dollar/hour received by Dining Services employees, putting it at $9.05. According to the poster made by HR the number for full-time employees should have been $13.97 and for part-time $10.90. Red and blue shirt salaries were also misrepresented, with the former placed at $9.50 at the latter at $10.50. The average wage of Dickinson student employees at dining services is $8.58 per hour.

Kahan’s poster also maintains “some staff members have been working for the college for more than 5 years with no pay increase.” According to Burleigh-Jones, after a salary freeze in 2010, all staff salaries have been increased annually.

In addition, Kahan’s poster states that “the living wage for a single adult in Cumberland Country” is $10.95 an hour. According to the Living Wage Calculator, created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT], the living wage for a single adult is $10.17.

According to Burleigh-Jones, the information presented in the poster has been made public for the campus community.

“This has not been not public. So these have been part of budget discussions I have had across campus, so students who attend faculty meetings, that data is available, I’ve given… open presentations about the budget…and it is also on the website so nothing of this has been contained…”

The recommendations made by Sibson are currently being implemented, according to Jones.

“The college committed $250,000 toward the implementation of the salary study recommendations in the current fiscal year and have designated an additional $150,000 for FY18,” she stated. In addition, the current year also saw a 2.5 percent salary increase for staff. Next year’s budget, which is currently under consideration by the Board of Trustees, includes a 2 percent salary pull.

The college also enhanced its benefits program. According to Burleigh-Jones, the college moved from seven to eight percent college contribution to retirement benefits with no matching requirement. The college is also planning on moving towards a 12 percent blended rate that includes a matching requirement over a five-year period. Benefits will now also include hearing aids, services to individuals with autism and infertility treatments.

Information on the Salary Structure can be found online, on the HR website under ‘salary structure.’ Recordings of meetings about the budget and the salary and benefit study are available through Gateway under campus resources titled ‘Employee Salary Study,’ for faculty and staff.

While Kahan acknowledges that her numbers were incorrect, she says she will not abandon her efforts to improve the lives of Dining Services Staff Members.

“I was going off of a pay scale… that they had online from last year so all of the numbers that I posted were correct as of July 31, 2016… but then I went abroad and it kind of got lost in the mix. So then these posters went up [from HR] and there was like push-back on Facebook and people were posting and commenting that everything I posted was a lie, which I get and I took the posters down because I don’t want to disseminate false information,” she stated. “I still don’t think this is a high enough wage…we can do better and we should do better because they work incredibly hard for us!”

The online petition still incorrectly states that the living wage is $10.95 for Cumberland Country.

Since then, several students, among them Janaiya Banks ’19 have shared their criticisms. Banks posted on Facebook, “I have received verified information that the numbers quoted in the petition we are all signing/sharing are untrue. In fact no one who works at Dickinson is paid an unfair wage.” Her information came from Burleigh-Jones.

For the future, Burleigh-Jones urges people to research the data before they sign any document.

“This data runs contrary to what our truth is…. For students to put their name on a petition that has incorrect information, that is a teachable moment. As an adult you want to be sure that what you put your name to has factual information.”

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Dining Service Wage Disputes Prompt Poster War