Some USF workers’ salaries fall short of areas living wages, study finds

A study done by Bill McClelland, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, shows that the living wage for a family of two – one parent and one child – in the Tampa Bay area is $31,008.

For families exceeding two people, the rate increases, he said.

But only approximately 44 percent of full-time workers at USF meet that percentage, and union members say they know of employees at the University who can’t pay for food or buy new shoes for their kids.

“The living wage represents the minimum amount of money that a family needs in order to afford their basic necessities,” said Susie Shannon, a member of the AFSCME union, which represents USF workers. “When people don’t have the money to pay for these things, they go without their basic needs.”

Shannon said she knows of some specific cases where workers couldn’t provide necessities for their families.

One groundskeeper, who wished to remain anonymous to protect a family member’s employment at the University, said the pay is not fair compensation for the work done.

The groundskeeper has been an employee at USF for seven years and makes $21,000 a year – money that goes toward supporting a family of five with the help of a spouse.

The groundskeeper and the family member, who has a similar job at USF, have health problems that force them to undergo weekly treatments, causing medical bills to pile up and place a financial strain on their family. The groundskeeper claims the family member was nearly fired last year after missing work to receive medical treatment.

“If I could make $1 (an hour) more, it would be a lot better,” the groundskeeper said.

On their most recent evaluation, the groundskeeper received a rating of “exemplary,” which is the highest rating staff can receive. However, the groundskeeper claims that some supervisors don’t appreciate the work a few staff members do – no matter the quality.

McClelland said supervisors use a standardized, university-issued form to evaluate employees. The staff union is fighting with the University right now about whether a performance-based system should be used to determine bonuses and cash incentives.

The form evaluates all employees on how they give formal written and oral presentations, and it also helps determine their pay. In the past, these evaluations did not impact pay, but a Board of Trustees Labor Committee meeting on March 29 implemented the change.

A custodian, who has worked at USF for slightly more than a year, said she earns about $17,000 for working full time at the Marshall Student Center. She said she has never received a performance evaluation.

“I’ve heard about the evaluations, but I’ve never seen one,” she said. “I know I do my best, and the (chance of) evaluations don’t bother me as long as the boss is honest.”

McClelland said that when workers don’t receive an evaluation, they are automatically given a rating of “achieved,” which is the lowest passing rating a worker can receive.

McClelland said the union has been representing USF workers for more than 25 years. He claims that USF has “brushed off” many of the union’s demands for better pay and fairer performance evaluations. He also said there is no standard level of training for those who evaluate employees.

John-Stephen Henderson, classification and compensation manager in USF’s Division of Human Resources, said USF doesn’t have the “cash flow” to give employees raises because of budget cuts and lack of funding from the state. Lawmakers cut $28.6 million in general revenue funds to the University for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

He also said that those who give out the performance evaluations are “encouraged” to go through training and to follow guidelines.

McClelland said he anticipates that more grievances will be filed now that workers pay will be tied to the performance evaluations. This will also create tension in the workplace, generate a loss of morale and cause employees to become competitive rather than “team oriented,” he said.

For the groundskeeper, who said he had a desk job in his native country, losing respect is more of a concern.

“Just because I speak with an accent and I work in the dirt doesn’t mean I’m stupid,” he said.