Currently working as a food server in the Terrace Dining Room, Ms. Leila Williams is now 80. She has prepared or served food to students at AU for over 53 years. She says she can’t afford to retire. The photo is from May 1, 2015. Year after year, the University talks “inclusion” while refusing to even meet with Ms. Williams and her colleagues. Why won’t the University talk to Ms. Williams and other older workers about the broken promises about retirement made to them over 50 years ago?
- Administrators broke promises about pensions made to service workers. AU promised workers who started in the 1970s pensions at the end of their years of work. Then AU brought vendors such as Marriott to campus who did not provide any pension payments for 18 years from 1981 to 2000. See the the workers’ contract with Marriott at the time. Note that pensions are not mentioned. Workers had the choice of accepting the contract or losing their jobs. Now 16 workers over 65 with more than 35 years of service can’t retire. President Sylvia Burwell refuses to meet with workers or faculty about this problem. What moral leadership!!
- Administrators exclude Black and Latino service workers from free classes on campus while publicizing how “progressive” and “inclusive” the university is. Every year 1700 administrative staff–mostly white–and 915 full time faculty, mostly white–can complete their law degrees, MBAs, and take other graduate and undergraduate classes for free. Service workers can’t even take undergraduate classes. Service workers–many of whom are DC residents–are locked out of education on campus while the university pays no DC real estate tax on a campus valued at hundreds of millions. What respect for the citizens of D.C. who pay real estate taxes. Adding one or two service workers to a class would cost the University nothing, but university administrators simply don’t care about giving people opportunity.
- Service workers on campus receive pension contributions at a rate one-third less than administrative staff. Every month the administrative staff–mostly white–receive 10% of their monthly salaries in their 403b pension accounts. This contribution is free from the University and is a very generous deal. These 403bs are just like 401ks in the private sector. Service workers receive $1.20 per hour worked, or around 6% a month, and they don’t work during the winter break or doing the summer so the actual percentage is lower. (See the previous contract at https://www.unitehere23.org/contracts/ The new contract is not yet online.)
An AU president once said, “If they wanted larger pensions, they could just bargain for them.” Really? Is it realistic for low wage workers barely scraping by to cut back on current wages to fund their pensions? If AU was a moral university, it would see that all vendors on campus had to match the 10% contribution, it gives faculty and administrators. Franklin and Marshall College gives its cleaners the exact same benefit package provided to faculty and administrators so it can be done. See https://www.fandm.edu/teamclean
- Administrators cover up problems with labor practices on campus. AU web sites do not contain any information about the lives of the 250 or more service workers on campus. This is so convenient for AU administrators. When new outrages occur, such as depriving all the workers in the campus Starbucks of heavily discounted college, no one knows. Yes, that is the case. If the employees of the Starbucks on campus worked for Starbucks, they could take online classes at Arizona State University at a 42% discount paid for by Starbucks . Adding in a Pell grant, college would get close to free. But the workers in Starbucks now work for Chartwell, the new university food vendor. Before Chartwell, they worked for Aramark. Dozens of people have been deprived of college through the usual AU silence. Should the workers in the campus Starbucks be able to choose between Chartwell’s benefits and what Starbucks offers?
Ask your professors to discuss the issues in the post about the moral failure of American University. For years the people suffering the most from AU’s labor practices have been African-American and Latino. This is racism. This is classism. These policies are not acceptable.
What do faculty suggest? Please ask them before class, during class, and after class. How does AU become a community of inclusion? What pressures will persuade AU to include rather than exclude Black and Latino service workers. When will the service workers receive 10% monthly retirement contribution administrators and faculty receive rather than the 6% food service workers receive now? And when will service workers receive the same free tuition for classes that administrators and faculty receive now?
AU administrators now charge food service workers who are only paid for nine months a year, the same monthly parking charge as $500,000 a year vice-presidents. See what the Eagle had to say about this. But the Eagle spoke up too much. And so the University closed the weekly print edition of the Eagle. They said it cost too much. That $10,000 a year to print it was too much in a non-profit with a $600,000,000 annual budget.
How to Solve the Retirement Crisis at AU with No Cost to Students.
What would it cost to remedy this situation of sixteen over
65-year old workers who can’t retire?
The problem began in the 1980s when AU outsourced or privatized its food service and cleaning services to vendors. AU ignored the policies of these vendors, pretending that AU had no moral responsibility for their actions on campus. Marriott, the first food service vendor made no payments to the pensions of food service workers while it was on campus. There have been a succession of vendors since Marriott.
Please remember in addition to the empty years, approximately 1982-2001, with no retirement contributions, these workers also will receive small social security checks based on many years at or near the minimum wage. The union has identified 16 workers who need help in order to retire.
How much monthly income does a worker needs for a decent retirement?
1. Professor Mary Gray of the Math/Stats Department has suggested using twice the poverty guideline amount for an individual. The national poverty guideline amount excluding Alaska and Hawaii is $11,880. Twice this amount is $23,760.
How much income can a low income worker depend upon from Social Security?
2. A food service worker with 39 years on campus said she expects to receive about $900 a month. Medicare will deduct $121.80 for the Part B premium, leaving a net Social Security benefit of $778 a month, or an annual Social Security benefit of $9338.
What is the gap between twice the poverty guideline and what a low-wage AU worker can expect from Social Security?
3. $23,760-$9,338=$14,422 a year or $1,202 a month.
What would the monthly cost be to American University of supplementing 15 workers over 65 with over 35 years of work at AU each?
4. $1,202*15 workers=$18,030 a month
What is this amount as a percentage of AU’s monthly spending?
With a total FY2017 annual budget of $610,000,000, the University spends $50,833,333 a month. The emergency supplement of $18,030 a month would amount to (0.000355) less than four thousandths of one percent of the monthly budget. (This amount is now out of date. With the University’s new budget of over $800,000,000 a year, the amount for all the elderly workers would be less than three thousandths of one percent of the University’s monthly budget.)
Where could American University find this sum without influencing tuition?
We recommend a 10% reduction in the salaries of University Vice-Presidents or a 4% reduction in the salaries of the twelve highest paid officers of the University to fund this pension supplement. See the IRS 990 form online for the salaries of these officers. Either reduction would entirely fund the pension supplements.
If university administrators decide to love and respect others, they might look at how Franklin and Marshall College has decided to treat its cleaners. They are now equal to administrators and faculty in terms of all benefits including free college degrees which could transform families for generations. And F and M will pay tuition at a community college for workers or children of workers without the skills to start at Franklin and Marshall. See https://www.fandm.edu/teamclean .
The University alleged that it could not afford to subsidize a student newspaper in 2013. The print edition was cut from being a weekly to two print editions a semester. The issue was money, they said. Really. An organization with a budget of over $600 million could not afford to provide $50,000 to keep the campus newspaper running. How many journalists out there began their careers at the college newspaper? How many stories about inflated budgets made university administrators uncomfortable over the years?
But now, AU administrators are much more comfortable. Students won’t see headlines about tuition increases in newspapers in the lobbies of their residence halls. Instead they will have to go online and search the Eagle for information. Would the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal have as much influence if they only existed online?
Today’s online Eagle has a fraction of the influence it had as a weekly print publication. See this link for details about the demise of the Eagle.
At a school that sells so many courses on politics, you might think that American University would encourage students to post their political opinions on campus. But this is not the case. A student who attaches a flyer to a bulletin board in the Mary Graydon Center, or tapes or tacks a flyer to a tree will see it removed in less than an hour in most cases. The university does not have a single kiosk like the one below where students’ opinions can be seen.