Viewpoints » Editorials

Reasonable hours

The University’s approach to cuts in worker hours is appropriate.

Last week, student activists and campus workers continued to protest the University’s decision last summer to cut the hours of Residence Halls and Commons (RHC) workers. For housekeepers and engineers on the RHC staff, the workweek was reduced from 40 hours to 35, lowering take-home pay by 8 percent. Workers and their supporters argue that plans for faculty expansion and continuing construction on several campus projects demonstrate that the administration could have avoided budget cuts. Yet the University has acted reasonably, shedding a total of just four jobs in RHC due to the recession. Moreover, while the decrease in hours is not insignificant, such a cut seems like a fair prioritization of competing interests.

Setting priorities is an essential part of running any university. By cutting the hours of RHC workers, the administration is necessarily prioritizing certain spending above giving staff a 40-hour workweek. It is understandable that the union watches construction and reads news of the faculty expansion with some frustration, as the University attempts to make it through the recession. It is important, however, for the administration not to halt long-planned construction projects; similarly, the faculty expansion seems long overdue. That being said, it is not at all clear that money for these initiatives came from the pockets of RHC employees. The University’s full line-item budget is not publicly available, so it would be impossible for us—or, for that matter, union leaders—to fully evaluate the University’s decision in the context of all other spending. What can be said is that in the midst of the recession, an 8 percent cut in hours with only a few layoffs seems reasonable.

While the reduction in hours amounts to an effective 8 percent decrease in pay, RHC workers retain their full-time benefits packages and the peace of mind that accompanies a steady job. With national unemployment levels reaching double digits, the University has kept the vast majority of RHC employees in the workforce, and has avoided casting large numbers of workers out into one of the worst job markets in years. Furthermore, the administration could have simply cut pay by 8 percent without a similar reduction in hours. This option might have been a more appealing one to the University since service would not have been reduced, but not following this path shows the administration’s willingness to compromise and not pass all the costs of the recession on to its workers.

Not surprisingly, nobody wants to be paid less. But tough choices have to be made. By allowing the vast majority of RHC employees to retain their jobs, the administration has made a tough choice in a responsible and equitable way.

— The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.

  • concerned with the quality of logic

    How can you say that the “administration has made a tough choice in a responsible and equitable way” while stating that it is “impossible for us—or, for that matter, union leaders—to fully evaluate the University’s decision in the context of all other spending”…? There are two logical options here:

    1. we cannot speculate about the university’s spending because we don’t have enough information (in which case you could argue that the 40 hour work week campaign is simply uninformed)

    2. we can speculate general priorities about the university’s spending by looking at what gets cut and what doesn’t. We know that long-term construction happens while workers get cutbacks so we can assume that non-essential (the new walkways) construction is prioritized over labor.

    If the maroon editorial board would rather have an aesthetic construction project (that it complained about last week) instead of keeping a 40 hour work week then by all means, continue with the crass editorials.

  • Victoria

    A few thoughts:

    I don’t think this should be seen as a matter of “well, it could have been worse”. I don’t think that argument should ever fly.

    The article emphasizes the administration’s need to prioritize. So does the fact that admin cut the workers’ hours but did not decide to halt campus construction mean that placing uneven cobblestone on an already paved surface was more important than providing their employees with a full work week to earn their living? And why exactly is it important to not halt long planned and unnecessary construction, particularly during a time when we can supposedly least afford such superficial spending? And if you think faculty expansion is overdue, try talking to the two maintenance workers who are constantly on call working at every dormitory on campus.

    The excuse of a recession has been drawn out and actions labeled “reasonable” are often labeled as such without careful consideration for what other alternatives could have been less detrimental to individual employee circumstances. Is it reasonable to cut the hours of the already lower paid employees on campus who can least afford it and leave the salaries of higher up admin untouched? Both levels of employees held worker contracts or agreements, but one was apparently easier to break.

    Workers should not be made to feel that because they have it better than most during “the worst job markets in years”, they should be grateful for what wasn’t taken from them. It’s a matter of behaving like a responsible employer and doing what is best for your employees and your center of employment. The money is there, but instead of being passed on to the workers, it went to making a garden in front of the Reg that no one will even look at during half of the freezing year. When did it become “reasonable” or “responsible” to put ascetics over livelihoods?

    What’s more, a five hour cut is a big difference to someone with already limited job opportunity who can’t be granted tenure. It’s a big difference to someone who has to plan in advance where every dollar of every paycheck has to go, be it rent, a mortgage, groceries, or their children’s school supplies. It’s a big difference to someone trying to pay their child’s tuition to college so that their sons or daughters may not be as vulnerable to “bad economic times”. Without dragging into further detail, just trust me on that.

    And without any attempt at sarcasm, thank you for the story.

  • Mandeep Bedi

    Where is the substance in this article? Is your sole point that its not that big of a cut? That’s quite pedestrian as you are an editorial board. And it remains to be seen how this is affecting student life. By having such a short staff in the housing system, there are fewer people to maintain the residence halls. That being said, we are decreasing the student life metric in housing. Fewer desk clerks means a greater security concern. Fewer engineers translates to maintenance issues taking longer to fix. Further, by not allowing workers more time in the work week, how is it expected that they fully service the University. It is a shame to think that those living in residence halls, and the majority of the University population, do not recognize these workers as part of the community. If you live in housing, recognize the importance. Recognize how much this staff caters to your every need, making sure that you’re as comfortable and safe as you would be at your own house. Then explain to me how these cuts make sense. Work, providing services to University residents, at a pay cut, and be expected to provide the same services at home. It seems cold to assume that the current economic downturn requires cutting the means of the people who need it most. This is what happens in our own backyard. If you can not recognize injustice in front of you, then how do you expect to be a difference in the world. Charity begins at home. If you live in the residence halls, show your support for your extended housing family. You love your RA’s, you love your RH’s, your housemates. Show some love to those who work day in and day out to keep your home safe and operational.

  • Abraham N.

    Completely agreed. If you’re selling your labor (say, janitorial work), and someday your customer (the University) wants to buy less of it, how does complaining to your customer do any good? It’s obviously their decision to set their priorities in whatever way they would like. You can’t force someone to buy more of your labor than then want to purchase. That would be absurd.