FREE SPEECH ZONE | From Macha to Pacha: The Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota addresses pay inequity in clerical workers salaries

According to Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, of the indigenous Aymara ethic group, “the Mayan calendar the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism.” This is a story of caring about one’s fellow co-workers and finding the spirit and means to finding an amicable solution.

Today, over a year later since this process began, three Humphrey School of Public Affairs clerical employees at the University of Minnesota received pay increases and retroactive pay to July 1st, 2012 due to a pay equity study conducted by AFSCME Local 3800 clerical workers union. There is not an easy way for clerical workers to get pay increases outside of the negotiated salaries between the University and the union. Some may say this is the union’s fault. It is most definitely not. But, for the sake of brevity and in the spirit of celebration, I cannot explain this in a short article. After hearing the dissatisfaction from Humphrey School clerical employees and that individual effort to obtain a pay increase had failed, a pay equity study was conducted and recommendations were forwarded to interim dean, Greg Lindsey, on January 26, 2012:

“Pay equity is a major concern for University of Minnesota clerical workers, especially for long-term employees. It was past practice to start employees at the bottom of the pay scale. Today, that is no longer the case. This disparity is the major reason for the pay inequity of the Humphrey School’s long-term employees. The excessive number of steps to get to the top of the pay scale adversely impacts long-term employees, as well. Few employers have job classifications with similar number of steps. Steps are progression pay as one learns the job. For the executive office and administrative specialist classification, there are 27 steps! Also, the number of pay freezes over a longer period of time, whether annual or steps, has contributed to the stagnation of pay of long-term employees.

…AFSCME LOCAL 3800 conducted a pay equity study upon hearing the dissatisfaction of the Humphrey School clerical workers in this class. The outcome of the study is:

  1. Three employees,…, are grossly underpaid….
  2. Humphrey employees with 27 or more years lag behind their counterparts elsewhere in the University system.… We assert that they receive pay increases….
  3. Two employees… should receive minimal pay increases to be aligned with the wages of the other Humphrey employees in their class with similar periods of employment….”

A new dean was hired and a meeting ensued on April 30 with several Humphrey School staff, the new dean Eric Schwartz, associate dean Greg Lindsey, human resources consultant Avis Held, and interim director of finance Ann Bruening, and me the vice president of Local 3800. I was told by Eric Schwartz that he would give the recommendations serious consideration but that they could not fund all the recommendations. Fair enough. Eric Schwartz approved the pay increases for the most egregious salary disparities. Next approval from the University’s central human resources was to be had, the tricky part.

At that point it was a waiting game. The union couldn’t push this or there would be resistance from the University. I remember at some point I told the interim dean that this would have to be propelled by the Humphrey School administration because it was the right thing to do. So, we waited and waited. Everyone said it would not happen, even the clerical worker who was really the driving force behind this. Being the optimist that I am, for some reason I was sure that the pay equity increases of at least the three “grossly underpaid individuals” would move forward, after all it was just and fair.

Well, on December 26 there were three happy and grateful University of Minnesota employees who received not only hourly pay increases, but retroactive pay. As I was leaving work before the holiday I stopped by to see my co-worker who prompted me to find a solution to the inequity and she said, “I got my Christmas present!” in reference to today’s check. Another co-worker told me what she could do now that there was no way she could do before.

I’ve been asked a number of times if I was one of the employees who received a pay increase as if maybe that was my motivation for navigating the pay equity study. No, I am not. But, what I did get is great satisfaction that someone is a little better off than they were before. It is not easy to live on a clerical workers salary. It was after all, the fair and just thing to do. So, just maybe, “pacha” (brotherhood and collectivism) is really a part of the natural forces in play now. A very special thank you to Eric Schwartz, Greg Lindsey, Ann Bruening, and any and all who played a part in making the salary increases come to fruition! It really was a cooperative effort. One last note, women sometimes don’t speak up about pay inequity. Speak up because you may be pleasantly surprised…you just never know what could happen! I do hope that I was able to navigate this process with the dignity and pride of my indigenous roots.

Mary Lou Middleton (Garza), former vice president of AFSCME Local 3800 clerical workers at the University of Minnesota

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    Mary Lou Garza's picture
    Mary Lou Garza

    Mary Lou Garza is a staff writer for African Global Roots.