By Tate Luckey
“Say it loud, say it proud, Lousiville is a union town!” led history professor Elise Franklin, as the quad erupted into claps and cheers during Tuesday afternoon’s United Campus Workers rally. Members of the U of L chapter — student workers, longtime staff, and faculty — hosted a pop-up rally to garner community support in their fight for fair compensation and representation at the university level.
Sarah Frankel, program coordinator for the U of L Library, has been a full-time employee for more than 20 years. She and others spoke about their struggles with the university and its compensation systems, and why they’re united in protesting.
“Being a staff member for as long as I have has made it a struggle to adequately contribute to my household, which supports my two children,” she said, her voice almost breaking. “I’ve also struggled to find my career path when the only way for staff to get promoted at U of L is to leave a job for another one in a different department.”
The U of L UCW platform is called “Cardinal Workers for Cardinal Values” — transparency, fair compensation, and a seat at the table for all campus workers, their handouts describe.
“We have a list of demands on there that include an across-the-board, immediate 10% cost of living increase because of the small cost of living increases we’ve gotten have not kept pace with inflation at all. So we’re just by default getting, you know, wage decreases. We’re also asking for $25 an hour minimum by 2025. And among the other demands is we’re asking for new structures that will allow us to be involved in these kinds of conversations going forward,” said Joshua Boydstun, Administrative Associate for the Department of Comparative Humanities.
The United Campus Workers Union is ever-growing; members at UT-Knoxville achieved $6,000 base pay raises for academic advisors and $9,000 raises for non-tenure track instructors, and in 2021 members at the University of Kentucky won a $15 minimum wage across the campus.
Corey Feger, an academic counselor in the Student Success Center, spoke about the inconsistencies in the university’s approach.
“Why is it that when we meet a benchmark or goal, it stands for raises, praise, and touting the achievement of our leadership? But then, when we ‘fall short’ for lack of resources, funding, or support, it’s suddenly on us. Suddenly we’re on the defensive trying to prove why we deserve to be paid to eat,” they said. “Who’s anxious at the grocery store? Who’s anxious at the gas pump? Who’s sitting here and has thought in the last month ‘I hope that card goes through?'” they asked to the crowd.
The UCW of Kentucky currently has over 180 members and has an open letter anyone can sign. At the rally, over 100 joined with many pins, buttons, and signs displaying their grievances.
About the compensation study
In 2021 U of L selected Segal, a national consulting firm with a history of completing similar work for universities, to help review positions and corresponding wage rates for a compensation restructuring; the goal of the Compensation and Total Rewards Study was to “ensure U of L’s jobs and benefits are competitive to the market”.
Instead, the study led to disproportionate pay for workers doing the same jobs, with veteran and rookie staff being paid nearly the same amounts. Some were even reclassified into jobs they previously held prior in their careers. Frankel noted that some “library specialists” were reclassified back into “library assistants”. While their pay was not cut, reclassifications like this could lead to a reduction in maximum earning potential.
Listening services supervisor Donald Dean explained that some of his colleagues − among the lowest-paid staff in library services − are now making about the same as student employees. Frankel stated that while students “absolutely deserve” the $15 hourly increase, there are now full-time employees in the library who make just 30 cents more than the students they supervise.
Despite being a 30-year employee of the University, Dean did not receive any additional forms of a raise beyond the 2% cost of living adjustment. Length of service was not taken into account for the compensation changes, university officials noted.
U of L Executive Director of Communications John Karman issued a statement on behalf of the University:
“We recognize and value our staff and the integral role they play in the success of the university and our students. The University has made significant investments in staff compensation and benefits to acknowledge that success and address their compensation in the marketplace. For instance, a Staff Compensation Study was initiated to follow best practices in supporting the university’s goal to compete nationally and regionally with peer institutions to attract and retain a highly qualified and diverse staff. The university engaged Segal, a nationally recognized HR consulting firm, to assist with the project.
“As part of the initiative, jobs were reviewed and matched against comparable positions at peer institutions to help ensure market competitiveness. In July, all eligible employees – faculty and staff – received a 2 percent cost of living increase. Then about one in five employees received additional compensation as a result of the study. No staff salaries were decreased and no jobs were eliminated. Also over the past 8 months, the university has raised its starting wage to $15/hr. for its employees, including student workers. As a result of these actions, the university invested $12.4 million in compensation improvements.
“We recognize that some long-serving employees still are paid below the market median for their peers. We are committed to developing a plan this fall to address those concerns in the future. Our leadership team continues to work with our Staff Senate on next steps in the process. A similar study for faculty is ongoing. We will continue to update faculty and staff on our progress.”
In an Aug. 17 email, U of L President Kim Schatzel noted administrators are drafting a plan to address salary gaps based both on years of service as well as positive performance reviews. A formal update about this plan will be released by Oct. 1, and by mid-October, a new compensation study website is set to be unveiled.
Photos by Hevin Ramsey // The Louisville Cardinal