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WFF pay 'just isn't enough'

Wages lower than those at Tulane, UNO, Xavier

By Jessica Williams
On April 10, 2008

Many of Loyola's WFF facilities workers say that since their post-Katrina wages have not gone up in proportion to increased living costs in New Orleans, it's difficult for them to make ends meet.

One employee said she works two jobs to support her children, because the income from WFF just isn't enough.

"My rent alone is $1,100 a month," she said. "I make about $1,100 a month at Loyola. If I didn't have my other job, I don't know where my four kids and I would be."

Statistics seem to support her claims. According to The New Orleans Index from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the 2008 average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans is $990. In 2005, rent on the same type of apartment was $676.

Matt DiChiara, marketing associate at MyNewPlace.com, confirmed that many New Orleans apartments are within this price range. The site listed $1,525 as the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in March and February 2008, and it listed $2,212 in January.

"The data on our site is automatically calculated from the apartments that list with us," DiChiara wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon. "It is updated and displayed every month."

WFF administrators said Loyola sets the workers' starting salary. Robert Sides, head supervisor of WFF services, said that the $7.19 per hour rate is Loyola's "social justice wage rate."

Paul Fleming, assistant vice president for Loyola's administration, confirmed this salary figure in an e-mail to The Maroon.

"The $7.19 wage rate is correct," he said. "This rate is set by Loyola's administration."

Employees also claim that Loyola's starting salary lags behind that of other local universities. An employee from one of the residence halls said that post-Katrina, Tulane's custodial staff is better paid than Loyola's staff.

"Tulane's staff gets paid $3 more," she said. "We are getting a work-study student's wages. You can't live off of that after Katrina."

Herbert Cressey, a custodial worker at Tulane for 16 years, confirmed this rate and further said that Loyola's workers are getting a bad deal.

"I work for UNICCO at night cleaning Goldring/Woldenberg Hall for $10 dollars an hour, and for Sodexho in the day cleaning the Lavin-Bernick Center for $12," he said. "We used to get paid $7 before Katrina, but those were different times. I wouldn't work for what Loyola gives."

Patricia Pineda, administrative assistant for UNNICO, Tulane's contracted custodial facilities company, said that the $10 is the base pay for all UNNICO employees.

"$10 an hour is the starting salary," she said. "This has been in effect since Hurricane Katrina."

However, while Tulane's Facilities Services administration confirmed that UNICCO is the main custodial service company on campus, they also said that there is a small number of workers who do work directly under Tulane, and that these workers receive $11,993 - $16,670 per year in salary.

"UNICCO is our main company, but there are some custodial workers who work for Tulane directly, and these workers start out at about $6 an hour," said Claudette Bonnette, project assistant and customer service representative for Tulane's Facilities Services.

Employers from other universities, such as University of New Orleans and Xavier University, also said that they increased wages after Katrina to offer "something a little more competitive" to their employees. Norman Zeringue, UNO facilities supervisor, said that all workers have started at $8.15 since 2006.

"When we reopened after Katrina we investigated not just other universities, but also hospitals, contractors and offices to find out our competition," he said. "We raised wages based from that. We knew we had to offer something competitive."

Brent Hithe, operations manager of JaniKing, Xavier's contracted facilities company, also said that JaniKing knew it had to increase wages.

"We were operating on a wage of $5.15 before the storm, but when they reopened (Xavier), we knew we couldn't get people back here without some sort of incentive to match higher prices," he said.

Hithe said that $7.50 is JaniKing's current starting wage, and that most employees get raises quickly based on seniority. But several employees claim that within WFF, seniority has little effect on wage rates. An employee from the one of residence halls said that there is little pay increase even for those who have experience.

"One of the ladies that works in my building has been with Loyola for close to 20 years, and she is barely making $8 an hour," she said. "I have been here for two years, and I have yet to see a pay raise. This is a temporary situation for me, but she has given half her life to this job. It's just not fair."

According to WFF administrators, workers' pay raises are based on attendance, punctuality, personal appearance and routine building inspections. But one employee from a main campus building said he missed days due to personal health issues and was still denied a raise last year despite working two shifts.

"I worked 17 hours each day for a month when there was no night shift worker in my building, and I still didn't get a raise," he said. "I missed several days from work on doctor's orders, because of my diabetes. I know attendance is important, but my health comes first. I had to go to the doctor. You can't blame me for having to go to the doctor."

Sides said he has only been with WFF since Oct. 1, 2007, and that he cannot account for the previous supervisor's actions towards employees who missed days. He also said that he inspires employees to do the best they can on the job.

"I try to lead by example," he said. "I come to work on time, every day, in proper uniform, for eight hours, so they'll be encouraged to do the same."

He also said he regularly asks about the concerns of WFF employees.

"My three lead supervisors and two other supervisors find out the employees' concerns, and we have staff meetings based on that. I also go around myself when I inspect the buildings, and when I see employees, I check on them, find out what their concerns are."

Since Sides's arrival at Loyola, he said he has avoided making radical changes within WFF administration. He said that his main goal right now is to observe and learn.

"I don't believe in coming in and making big changes too soon," he said.

"I want to observe and find out what worked before, then change things from there."

Although 27 out of the 35 employees interviewed said they have a "good" relationship with Sides, and they "appreciate his efforts," nine employees said Sides and the rest of the administrative team encouraged them not to speak with The Maroon about "job-related issues."

"They told us to only talk to the paper about our personal life, or about our families," an employee from a residence hall said.

"After they found out a story was being run, they came around and told us not to say anything about the job."

Sides confirmed this, and said while there were "no consequences" for a worker who talked to The Maroon, he would prefer it if employees opted out of an interview. "I told them I would prefer them not to disclose anything about the job to the paper," he said.

"Any quotes the paper prints concerning WFF should be my own, as head of the organization. They can disclose anything else that is personal or non-job related."

Many employees declined to be interviewed after this memo went out.

Despite their wage concerns, 28 out of the 35 interviewed employees said they genuinely like their jobs.

"When everyone is on task, and people show up when they are supposed to, it's really an easy job," one main campus employee said.

"We get holidays off, the students are courteous, and we have a good time with each other. The only thing I have a problem with is the salary. When you get the check back, it's depressing to think of how you have to make it stretch, with car insurance, rent, and gas being so high - and you also have to think about savings. It would be nice to have a little bit more."

Jessica Williams can be reached at jlwilli1@loyno.edu.


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