Chancellor Endorses Living Wage for All U of A Employees

News Statement For immediate release — For more information

A point in the 10th and final section of the University of Arkansas chancellor’s “Focus on the Future” planning analysis recommends all employees have a living wage of $30,000 a year. This is earning strong praise from the school’s union.

Professor Bret Schulte, president of UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965, applauds Chancellor Joe Steinmetz for committing “the University to providing Living Wages ($30,000/year) to all university employees.”

“We are looking forward to the plan he promises to unveil in the next few months. We are encouraged by his commitment to the employees that make the University of Arkansas the premier institution of higher education in the state — and for rising to the challenge universities are meant to address, the promotion of fairness, social improvement, and prosperity for all,” Schulte said Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

[Update] The university announced the 10th section on March 11.

Illustration for the white paper analysis of Chancellor Joe Steinmetz
Illustration for the white paper analysis of Chancellor Joe Steinmetz

Local 965, representing the faculty and staff of the University of Arkansas, has waged a Living Wage campaign since spring 2018, gathering nearly a thousand signatures in support of a minimum hourly wage of $14.42 per hour for UA employees. That hourly rate, drawn for a year of 40-hour work weeks, comes to just under $30,000.

The key paragraph from Action Item 10 of Steinmetz’s white paper reads as follows:

“It bears mentioning that we’ve also been alarmed by high turnover in some positions. We need to have competitive wages. In order to be a more responsive workplace, we’ve conducted an ongoing evaluation of our labor market rates to remain competitive. We are now working on a plan that we hope to unveil soon and begin to implement on July 1. A part of that plan is a commitment to providing a living wage, as best we can, for our employees. Our ultimate goal is to raise the minimum yearly salary for all full-time appointed U of A employees to $30,000.” 

Professor Mike Pierce, Local 965 vice president, called the Focus on the Future inclusion “great news,” adding, “Of course, the proof will be in the details as they are unveiled.”

“Local 965 continues to advocate for a safe and equitable workplace,” Schulte said. “We believe a Living Wage will aid in recruiting and retaining the very best employees to aid in the U of A’s mission to be a global leader in research, teaching and scholarship.”

The union has represented U of A staff and faculty since 1962.  

Minimum Wage Rises Jan. 1

The minimum wage in Arkansas will increase to $10.00 an hour on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. The rate had been $9.25 an hour.

To help workers understand this change, the Civil Litigation and Advocacy Clinic  of the University of Arkansas has produced fact sheets in three languages, English, Spanish and Marshallese (PDFs).

The service is among the legal clinics offered by the School of Law, a project founded by then-professor Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1975.

While any increase in the minimum hourly wage is a boon for Arkansawyers, $10 is well shy of the $14.42 an hour sought for U of A employees in the Living Wage Campaign of Arkansas 965, the labor union on campus.

An initiated act approved by Arkansas voters in the November 2018 general election raised the minimum hourly wage from $8.50 to $9.25. In 2021, the bottom hourly pay will be $11.00.

Alas, the road to the official increase is bumpy, according to the Dec. 22, 2019, article “Arkansas Wage Law Pares Caregivers’ Pay — Medicaid’s 15¢ Rate Increase Sets Up Home-care Hours Cut” in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Some 2,800 disabled people in the state can retain home-based health aides, whose pay has been $10.40 an hour, which won’t cover the wage plus the caregiver’s taxes. To cover the loss, officials decided to cut the number of hours they can work. (Alternate link for the article)

The Civil Litigation and Advocacy Clinic — phone 479-575-3056 — provides free legal representation to low-wage workers in unpaid wage matters. It has recovered roughly $200,000 for its clients — including undocumented clients.

A related program, the Human Trafficking Clinic, advocates to confront and prevent human trafficking, including labor trafficking. Foreign nationals can be screened for eligibility for immigration relief.


Joining with Education Professionals Across the State and Nation

Last night, members of the APEU Local 965, formerly affiliated with AFSCME, voted to chart a new course for employees of the University of Arkansas by joining forces with the Arkansas Education Association, the state chapter of the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association.

We are thrilled to join with thousands of other educators across the state to advance the cause of public education in Arkansas by promoting student success, protecting workers’ rights, fighting for a living wage and ensuring campus safety. The Local will continue to stand for all workers in the UA System — from faculty and staff, instructors and graduate assistants to research techs and facilities management professionals.

Logo for Arkansas Education Association, square

Our members will work closely with the AEA in Little Rock to voice the priorities of UA employees to state decision makers in the ongoing effort to aid the university in its mission to make Arkansas more equitable and prosperous for future generations.

AEA President Carol Fleming said on learning of our decision, “We are excited that educators from the University of Arkansas voted to join thousands of educators across our state as members of the Arkansas Education Association. We are celebrating our 150th year representing educators entrusted with educating Arkansas’s students from pre-K through higher ed. Our growing membership from institutions of higher education is a natural fit under the recent state government transformation which brought the various facets of education together under one umbrella.”

As a business note, the vote of Nov. 21 necessitates our scheduling a regular meeting in December. That will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, at Columbus House Brewery on North Street. As always, we welcome members and all interested in our group.

— Bret Schulte, APEU president

Let’s Keep Campus Bookstore

University of Arkansas Bookstore, Fayetteville

“The Arkansas Public Employees Union opposes the privatization of services, including the bookstore, at the University of Arkansas not only on the Fayetteville campus and all campuses around the state because it comes at the detriment of workers.”

The union is making this official statement after it was reported Oct. 22, 2019, that the University had let bids, due weeks earlier Sept. 25, for private management of the official campus bookstore as well as its Razorback Shop in Rogers. The awarded firm would have to commit to keeping full-time employees (numbering 16 in documents) for six months. The change in operations could begin Jan. 1. The APEU, formerly AFSCME Local 965, represents U of A employees.

The university may “no-award” the request if it “deems the Proposals are not in the best interests of the University,” according to the Oct. 22 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article “UA Seeks Outside Bids from Firms to Operate Campus Bookstore.” The article quotes experts from around the country that such privatization generally results in lower wages and reduced benefits.

“Such benefits as tuition waivers cannot be replicated by private employers, and it is unlikely the university’s strong retirement plan will be matched by an entity whose mission is profit rather than education,” the APEU statement continues. “And with no competition on campus, the bookstore has little incentive to keep prices low for students buying books.

“Privatization benefits a small group of investors who will seek revenue by lowering the wages and benefits paid to employees and increase the prices and fees paid by students. For instance, the profits of the current university-run book store are dedicated to helping the university. The bookstore at its website declares, ‘As a self-supporting auxiliary group, our profits remain on campus to support programs, scholarships, and facilities that benefit university students. In addition to redirecting our profits to the university, the Bookstore provides donations to programs that are in line with our mission to support the university community.’

“But the profits from a privatized bookstore will go to out-of-state investors. Moreover, the campus bookstore is one of the few opportunities for income available to international students, who are not allowed to seek outside employment.

“More generally, the privatization trend in higher education has not brought the promised benefits. At Chancellor Steinmetz’s previous institution, Ohio State University, the privatization of parking brought an apparent windfall, but the university was ripped off. According to a recent study by an Ohio State engineering professor, that university of lost an estimated $14.5 million on the deal in fiscal year 2018 alone (see Bruce Weide in Ohio State University’s Lantern Dec. 4, 2018). That money ended up in the pockets of foreign investors,” the APEU statement concludes.

The U of A in a press release Oct. 25 announced that the companies Barnes & Noble and Follett would present their cases to win the management bid next week, “Presentations Scheduled for Potential U of A Bookstore Management Vendors.” At their programs to which the public is invited, “each vendor will provide an overview of its experience in operating campus bookstores as well as plans for the operation of the University of Arkansas Bookstore.”

Note: Aug. 26 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “UA Bookstore Pitches Irk Members of Union” — here is an alternate link

Local’s Leader Reports on National Union Trends

Bret Schulte
Bret Schulte

“The infusion of the middle class into the labor movement means a shifting sense of where social change is most desperately needed. What hasn’t changed is that unions are an effective tool for changing priorities.”

AFSCME Local 965 Arkansas President Bret Schulte, a career reporter currently an associate professor with the University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media, published an article April 12, 2019, on the future of unions in the respected online news publication

The Future of Unions Is White-Collar: Blue-collar Jobs Are Disappearing. But a Powerful New Wave of Organized Labor Is Taking Its Place”

By Bret Schulte

In his research, Schulte found, “more than 1 million professionals have joined unions in the past two decades, reaching an all-time high in 2018 of 6.18 million. The numbers of their blue-collar brethren, meanwhile, have plummeted by 3 million over the same period, according to numbers provided by the AFL-CIO.”

This is a straightforward news story with some analysis, not an opinion piece. It’s just under 2,000 words. Schulte uses transparency, noting in a paragraph mid-piece his union and professional affiliations.