Staff voices concern over compensation

While Chapman maintains its benefits package makes the university’s compensation competitive, staff members argue their wages are inadequate when the costs of living in Orange County are considered.

Some staff members told The Panther last week that they believe they are paid well below fair market value, and that they feel that they have no leverage when it comes to negotiating for higher pay. Staff members also said they fear raising issues about compensation with the university.The salary allotted to staff members is ridiculously low when looking at the cost of living in Orange County as well as the salaries allotted to comparable staff positions at other institutions, said Amy McKelvy, a staff member in the Registrar’s Office who left the university Friday, citing inadequate pay as a prime reason for her departure. Staff members fear talking about and raising this issue for many reasons, including the fact that there is no ally for them on the university campus.”Due to policy restrictions, Human Resources cannot reveal average salaries of the university’s staff. However, McKelvy, who served as a registration assistant, said her starting salary three years ago at Chapman was $20,900, a figure that she said is low when looking at the market in general.Despite policies that restrict Chapman officials from addressing specific issues of salary compensation, Ruth Wardwell, director of news services for Chapman and the university spokesperson for this report, said that comparing salaries at Chapman to those at other institutions is like “comparing apples to oranges.”However, Maria Plimpton of California State University, Fullerton’s Human Resources department, after comparing the job descriptions of entry level support staff positions at Chapman to those at Fullerton, confirmed McKelvy’s assertions. She said that McKelvy’s former position at Chapman was comparable to a position titled Administrative Support Assistance 2 at Cal State Fullerton, a position that has a starting salary of $26,340 per year.While Cal State Fullerton often offers higher staff salaries, staff members there do not receive a tuition remission policy for all of their dependents, as Chapman’s staff members do. Rather, tuition benefits are extended only to staff members, a factor that contributed to McKelvy’s staying at Chapman.”I was able to justify getting my master’s degree virtually free and a tuition discount for my husband as an offset of the low salary,” said McKelvy. “But while I have my husband’s and my education as a reason for enduring the difficulties of low staff salary, many do not.”McKelvy said that at least nine staff members from within the Registrar’s Office have recently left the university. While the reasons behind their departures are unclear, McKelvy said she believes that the staff members left because of inadequate salaries..But Wardwell claims that salary has not been an issue in most of the recent staff departures.”Our exit interviews and other survey data reveal a variety of reasons for individuals leaving Chapman’s employ,” she said. “Salary is not the primary reason in the majority of responses.”However, inadequate salary has contributed to a high turnover rate and an inability to fill positions with the most qualified applicants in several departments, according to some staff members.Three staff positions have remained unfilled in the library for various lengths of time, including one position that has remained open for a year, said Ron Rodriguez, associate dean of the library. While Rodriguez said that salary is not the only issue contributing to the difficulty in filling positions, it has been a factor.”There have been some cases where there have been highly qualified librarians with lots of experience, but their salary expectations are greater than what Chapman can offer,” said Rodriguez.High turnover and an inability to recruit new staff members minimize staff effectiveness, said McKelvy.”High turnover weakens departments because they are consistently having to hire and re-train incoming employees,” she said.Wardwell said that turnover is a natural part of any working environment.”Without turnover, no employee would be able to move up in the ranks or have the opportunity to improve his or her professional position,” she said. “On a day-to-day basis, turnover can be stressful at any workplace. Entry-level jobs are just that, and it is expected that turnover will occur.”Former Registrar Wayne Van Ellis said he “left the university for many reasons, one being the desire to be appropriately compensated for my professional services.” Van Ellis left following the completion of the spring 2000 semester, and is currently the Registrar at Whittier College.”Staff salary is an appalling situation,” said Adrienne Alexander, a department secretary in the art department. “After working here and climbing the ranks for years, a staff member like myself is lucky to ever reach $30,000 a year before taxes, even if you are highly qualified and have been with the university for years. It is very difficult to support myself and parents on the salary I make.”While student enrollment at Chapman has increased over the past several years, the number of staff has not, a fact confirmed by Wardwell. Some staff members say that the increase in the number of students has created an additional workload for some staff members without any additional compesation.”We are looking at another one-third more students to deal with and are working with the same salaries,” said Alexander. “It is not fair.”It seems obvious that with an increase in students there should be an increase in the number of staff employed by Chapman, said McKelvy.”Without adding additional staff, we have a workload far more than in the past and that workload comes without any additional compensation,” said McKelvy.When asked whether it is a concern of the university’s that the workload of staff is increasing while compensations is not, Wardwell said, “sure,” but said she did not know if the university is doing anything to address that concern.Both current and former Chapman staff members said that they feel uncomfortable talking about salary issues with The Panther due to their fear of jeopardizing their jobs or those of their former co-workers and, therefore, prefer anonymity.Alexander said that she may be putting her job at risk for speaking out, but said that it “the university fires someone for stupid reasons such as discussing important issues like this, then so be it; it is time that this issue is addressed.”Some staff said they feel that one reason behind staff members’ fear of raising important salary and compensation issues derives from the inclusion of an employment at will clause in Chapman’s offer letters, without a collective bargaining unit or other means of protection in place.At other competing universities, like Cal State Fullerton or the University of California at Irvine, staff members work under a collective bargaining unit and are not employed at the will of those universities. A spokesperson in the Cal State Fullerton Human Resources department said that the only staff members considered to be employed at the will of the university are upper-management employees.”It does create a sense of fear when this clasue is at the top of Chapman’s offering letter and staff knows there is no collective bargaining unit or other protection to compensate for this clause,” said a former Chapman staff member, who prefers to remain anonymous.In the past, the university had the Chapman University Staff and Administration Forum (CUSAF), an organization that provided the opportunity for staff to share their problems and concerns with members of the university.”I think fear partly comes from the fact that there is no formal place for staff to discuss issues,” said Brian Sanders-Park, registration area coordinator. “Before we had CUSAF, which allowed staff to formally express issues and have some sort of representation in the administration.”CUSAF staff representatives had the opportunity to serve on several committees including the Millennium Campaign Committee, said Sanders-Park.”As a member and representative for CUSAF, I was able to stand up for the staff on issues such as staff position funding during the campaign meetings,” said Sanders-Park.CUSAF disappeared several years ago for several reasons, including a lack of staff and administrative willingness to take on the responsibilities of leadership roles within the organization, said Sanders-Park.”I would hope that the university administration and staff would commit again to having something like CUSAF in order to alleviate some of the fear expressed from the Chapman staff and increase communication between staff and other university personnel,” said Sanders-Park.Wardwell said the university’s professional view of collective bargaining units, with purposes similar to those of CUSAF’s”which was not an official collective bargaining unit”is that they, like many things, have pros and cons.She also said that staff does have leverage in the form of their own performance.”The university implements an annual merit raise program,” said Wardwell. “Their own personal and professional performance is their leverage.”Yet even when CSUAF was in operation, Alexander said that she believes many of the “town hall” meetings were unsuccessful in truly raising staff concerns.”At one meeting, I actually had top administration tell me that if I knew what was good for me, I would stop raising the salary issues,” said Alexander. “Of course people are then going to be fearful, when Chapman basically threatens us.”Wardwell said she does not know where this apparent fear stems from and that she has not experienced it personally.”From my experience, whenever I have an issue with Chapman, I have approached my managers and supervisors in a professional way,” said Wardwell.The university highlights that while salaries may not lead the market, compensation packages and benefits afforded to staff and all Chapman employees are generous.According to a prepared statement for The Panther from the university, the compensation package the university offers staff includes: generous medical, dental and vision benefits, generous tuition waiver benefits after a waiting period in which Chapman employees and their dependents enjoy tuition benefits at Chapman and other participating institutions, significant discounts at the campus day-care facility contribution of up to 8 percent retirement benefit and university paid life insurance.However, staff members say that the tuition remission benefit, one of the most attractive aspects of the university’s benefits package, is difficult for staff members making a low salary to afford and use.One problem several staff members noted about this benefit is that although classes are ultimately free for graduate students”as long as the students take no more than six units per semester”they must pay high taxes on these classes which lessens the value of compensation benefits.”When you put high taxes on top of an already extremely low salary, it is nearly impossible to survive,” said a former staff member, who signed an agreement upon her departure which prohibits her from disclosing any information about her time at Chapman.According to Sanders-Park, high taxes on tuition-free graduate courses “lessens the value of that compensation benefit.”Former business office staff member Josh Rein cites the difficulty he experienced in using this benefit as primary reason for his departure.At one point, he needed to take a class beginning at 4 p.m., an hour before his usual working day ended.Upon reading the employee policy manual on the Internet, he understood that he could take that time as vacation time or take the time without pay.”I decided to take the time without pay, but was told that I could not do so and that I must work my 40 hours a week no matter what,” said Rein. “I butted heads with my supervisor and Human Resources about the issue. It is very difficult to make use of this so-called benefit.”Another former employee who wished to remain anonymous claims that it is “practically impossible to adequately use this benefit when they expect you to work full time.”Wardwell said, however, that while the benefits offered by the university are generous, not all employees would find them worthwhile.”Chapman enthusiastically supports its employees fully, and we appreciate with great respect the hard work our people contribute day in and day out,” she said. “Look no further than our president. He routinely sends hand-written commendation letters. In the past he ha acknowledged the hard work of employees throughout the year by letting them go home early the day before a holiday. At the same time, we also acknowledge that Chapman is not the ideal workplace for everyone.”With the diverse spectrum of issues surrounding staff salary, it ultimately boils down to the “university not taking care of staff,” said Alexander.”The whole salary situation is very sad,” she said. “I wish the university would address these issues because so many of us truly love our jobs and working with the students at Chapman and do not want to leave because of this.

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