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University of Georgia - Living Wage Slow to Progress: Workers Want More
The Red and Black
Drew Hooks

September 27, 2010
View the Original Article

In the steamy dish room of Bolton Dining Commons, Annie Adams and Kathy Saylors yell over the monotonous noise of the whirring grinder and the spraying dish washer.

Adams, a part-time worker at Bolton since 2003, does not want to become a full-time employee because they take out too much money for benefits, she said.

Despite this, Adams and Saylors both desire some sort of health care plan.

Many of the low-wage workers at the University desire a change for better conditions, wages and benefits.

“What’s not fair to us is that we don’t have health care,” Adams said. “We work as much as full-time, and we don’t get insurance. They get all of the benefits. I don’t think that’s right. We work hard.”

Saylors, who has been a temporary worker at Bolton since 2005, agreed.

“We’re being treated differently,” she said. “When we go to St. Mary’s we have to pay up front out of our pocket.”

Saylors said she has applied to become a full-time employee many times but has not received the position.

“I don’t get why people have been here for so long and are still part-time,” she said. “No one has come up to us and asked us if we wanted to be full-time.”

The system of part-time employees working the same amount of time as full-time employees was documented by the University in 2007 by the Ad Hoc Committee for the Pay and Benefits of Low Wage Employees.

The committee researched the situation of low-wage workers and gave recommendations to the University for changes that should be implemented.

Some of the changes that were recommended include: raising the minimum hiring rate to $24,000 a year by Jan. 1, 2010 or no later than Jan. 1, 2012; working with the Board of Regents to create a tiered insurance system based on salary; providing health insurance for non-student, temporary workers who work more than 20 hours a week over a three month period; and creating a system where temporary employees can move into regular, benefit-eligible positions after a period of consecutive years of employment.

These recommendations have yet to be realized fully.

Duane Ritter, deputy director of human resources, attributes much of the standstill on implementing these recommendations to the economic situation in the state and the nation.

Ritter said even though progress has been made since 2006 concerning wage increases for the lower paid employees — the minimum hiring rate is $21,000 for regular, benefits-eligible employees, which increased incrementally from $17,500 in 2006 — the increases were put on hold because of the economic situation.

“In the last few years, because of the budget reductions, we haven’t been able to increase for any of our staff,” Ritter said. “It’s not because of lack of interest. It’s just lack of resources.”

The University attempted to shield low-wage employees from the budget reductions last year by exempting them from the furlough days, Ritter said.

As for the cycle of temporary workers not moving up into regular employment, Ritter explained the process.

“People can work for six months then request an extension for another six months and then they must be off for a while before they can be rehired,” he said.

However, the University has not made progress in implementing a tiered insurance plan or in providing health benefits for long-term temporary workers.

“We are unfortunately caught up on restricted financial times where the focus of the Board of Regents has not been the expansion of health care but keeping costs down,” Ritter said. “We need better economic times for significant changes.”

Matt Boynton, a University alumnus from Roswell who is an organizer for the University’s Living Wage campaign, agreed that the University has been making some progress over the past few years but mostly because of the efforts of Living Wage.

“I wouldn’t attribute it to the administration,” Boynton said. “Some things have gotten worse.”

Because of the effect the budget cuts will have on University jobs, Boynton said the efforts of the Living Wage campaign have shifted to focusing on budget allocations.

The group’s next big event on Oct. 7 will be “a demonstration dance party,” as Boynton calls it, in support of the reduction and re-allocation of budget cuts.

However, despite some protests, not all workers have bleak outlooks on their jobs.

“I love working with everyone,” Saylor said. “Bolton is a nice place to work.”