On April 1, a compensation increase took effect for all college employees whose annual compensation had been below $85,000. The compensation changes, which were communicated to all staff and faculty in a March 26 email from President Biddy Martin, are separate from the college’s annual salary pool increase that takes effect on July 1 each year.
The April 1 pay raise consisted of an increase in the wage of hourly, benefits-eligible employees at the minimum end of the A0-1 pay grade from $16.71 to $17.71 per hour. Additionally, employees making under $50,000 annually received a $1.00 per hour increase, employees making between $50,000 and $59,000 received an $.80 per hour increase, and employees making between $60,000 and $85,000 received a $.60 per hour increase, with salaried employees receiving the equivalent of the hourly increase based on their weekly schedule. Casual employees earning minimum wage also went from making $15 per hour to $16 per hour, and the student earning minimum wage increased from $14.25 per hour to $15.25 per hour.
“[The compensation changes] reflect a strategic investment that will also assist hiring managers with recruiting and retaining talent at a time of market pressures and labor shortages,” wrote Martin in her March 26 email. She also noted that all employees receiving a wage increase remain eligible for the July 1 salary pool increase.
Wages and labor rights at the college have become a larger conversation in the past academic year. At the start of the fall, employees reported feeling overworked and underpaid, and later, activism on the part of the Amherst Labor Alliance brought heightened attention to deeper issues surrounding employee pay and conditions. Last November, the college converted a number of casual employees to benefited positions, resulting in an expansion of the healthcare and pay offered to employees.
In light of this most recent development, The Student spoke with several college employees, one of whom is quoted anonymously in this article.
Employee A, who works in the dining hall, reflected on the ultimate impact of the shift. “I’d have to say it barely makes an effect,” they said. “In my opinion, the fact it was offered is a clear indication they [management] know the wages are below standard and did little to adjust pay to current conditions.”
“Current conditions” include the cost of living in the Pioneer Valley, as well as recent price inflation, employees stated. According to costofliving.org, in Amherst, the average rent for a one room apartment is $2,000 per month, the average utility bill is $170 per month, the average monthly food cost is $537, and gas is $4.15 per gallon. This adds up to a monthly cost of living of roughly $2,800 assuming that the person uses 30 gallons of gas per month. As per the new wage increase, an employee of the lowest pay grade working a consistent 40 hours per week at the college will make around $2,560 each month.
The wage raise also prompted some employees to reflect on different types of raises being offered across the nation. Employee A stated that other corporations, such as Target and Panera, seem to be shifting their view of labor in light of the pandemic and recent global events.
Target has opened its health insurance plans to employees working only 25 hours a week, and has expanded the starting wage range of its employees to between $15 and $24 an hour. In Employee A’s view, Amherst too has the leeway to offer their employees more. “Unlike a small mom-and-pop restaurant looking to survive the bottom line, Valentine Hall and Amherst have the means and ability to properly care for its workers and actively chooses not to, which is very disheartening.”
With this in mind, Employee A said they predict that Amherst dining will “keep struggling to hire and keep employees until a massive pay and attitude correction occurs.”