Nov. 10, 2009

Reasonable hours

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.