De-Classified: Classified staff protest Board of Trustees meeting over wage increase

Prior to the Board of Trustee’s meeting on Tuesday, April 5, a group of 25 classified staff employees, which later grew to over 50, picketed on Pico Boulevard outside of the Main Campus' 17th Street parking lot entrance in protest to the board’s refusal to provide them the three percent wage increase they asked for in 2015. “We are out here because we want to equally share in the success of the college when it comes to compensation,” said Cecil Godbold, who has worked at SMC for the last 31 years.

Classified staff employees, who are members of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) union, have been in negotiations with the board since last June. Though most students are familiar with faculty or administrative constituencies at the school, classified staff employees are made up of the workers in custodial, janitorial, and cafeteria positions as well as many other departments that aren't strictly about teaching or management.

“We want a three percent increase for last year’s contract,” said Robert Villanueva, the president of SMC’s CSEA chapter.

The initial offer from the Administration was 0.8 percent. The classified staff countered with 10 percent, hoping to land somewhere in the middle. Currently, the Administration is willing to give a 2.6 percent raise with a $1,000 bonus for each of the 460 classified employees. The classified staff is asking them to forget the bonus and instead give them a three percent raise.

“The average increase across the country last year was three percent,” said Connie Lemke, vice president of the CSEA chapter. “We only want what’s fair.”

A main issue is the disparity in raises between classified staff workers and administrative positions.

“They gave 22 administrators and senior managers a $1.5 million raise last year [collectively],” said Lemke.

“I do know that last year we raised the wages of two or three vice presidents so that… all the pay was equal among the VPS,” said Andrew Walzer, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees. “But as far as I know we haven’t given across the board increases to administrators.”

The current 0.4 percent difference between the two sides will cost just $108,000 a year.

“Administration positions are growing from 82 to 98 over the past 3 years,” said Associated Students president Jesse Randel. “When administration is growing and more and more in money is being spent on administration positions and they’re cutting student worker positions by half across the board — tell me where you think this school’s priorities lie.”

Susan Aminoff, a member of the Board of Trustees, said that determining the amount of administrative positions is more complex than this. “This is a very complicated issue because many administrative positions are tied to grants,” she said. “We would have to sit down and see how many of those administrators are paid by a grant, how many of them are hired due to legislative mandates.”

As the board meeting Tuesday opened to the public, the picketers filed into the room and waited their turn to speak during the public comments portion. Five SMC students spoke in support of the classified workers including Walther Perez, Sharon Nat, Orlando Gonzalez, Jesse Randel and Laura Zwicker.

“We ought to take care of our employees properly,” said Gonzalez, who continued by saying that the counter offer of 2.6 percent was an insult.

Several of the classified workers spoke as well, including Godbold, who became emotional while saying, “Why are we so disconnected?”

“It was really, really good to see the support they have and that people recognize what they do,” said Aminoff. “This process is not adversarial. We’re just figuring out what it could be and what we could responsibly pay and continue to pay.”

According to the classified workers, a main issue with raising their wages is that student enrollment is low. The meeting began with an announcement that $1.7 million of the budgeted earnings for this school year won’t be met.

“Enrollment has softened and we often see that when the economy is able to absorb students and offer them jobs, they tend not to take as many classes,” said Aminoff. “The other consideration is we’ve been getting money from Prop 30 and we don’t know whether that money is going to end or not.”

Walzer agreed that cost is a major issue. “There’s been concerns about the cost and how much the college can afford to pay out to the employees,” he said. “I think the administration would like to give generous pay increases, but there’s budget pressures which include increased expenditures and reduced revenue from the state.”

He expanded on this, saying that pension and healthcare costs have risen while revenues from enrollment has flattened.

“The state gives us a certain amount of money per student, and if we grow, we get a certain amount of money per student plus an extra amount of money,” Walzer said. “And we didn’t grow.”

The state measures enrollment by the number of full-time students.

“So, our revenues for this budget year are less than we projected because we didn’t grow enough to grab this enrollment growth money,” said Walzer.

“We know enrollment is low, but when they were giving administrators anywhere between 9 and 19 percent raises, they were in the same situation,” said Villanueva.

According to Godbold, “The faculty and administration are both within the 80th percentile of compensation in the state while the classified employees are within the 50th percentile.”

Throughout the negotiations, the feelings about working at the school remain positive.

Villanueva said, "If you would ask anyone that worked here, they love working at this place, it’s a great place to work."

Godbold shared similar sentiment, saying, “This campus is woven within the fabric of my life.”

“Everyone on the board values the classified staff,” said Aminoff. “We understand the important work they do and we know that they interact with students every day and they’re the front line. We get that. And we’re going to do everything we can to wrap this up very shortly.”