Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Social Compact

(a tip o’ the hat to Robert Reich)

In the quarter-century following-World War II, most working Americans had specific expectations in the workplace. Though seldom put into words, these public expectations included the belief that as (organizations) do better, their workers should, too. Wages should rise, as should employer-provided health and pension benefits, and jobs should be reasonably secure.

We were all in it together and as a result grew together. It would be unseemly for (an organization) that was doing well to fail to share its prosperity with its employees and the communities in which they lived.

It is important to understand what this social compact was and what it was not. It defined our sense of fair play, but it was not primarily about redistributing wealth. There would still be the rich and the poor in America. The compact merely proclaimed that at some fundamental level we were all in it together, that as a society we depended on one another.

The unraveling began in the late 1980s, and continues today. The university has downsized staff, reduced benefits, and twiddled with job descriptions and the salary schedule. Full-time workers have been replaced with independent contractors, temporary workers and part-timers. The university has subcontracted work to private firms offering lower wages and benefits. State-provided health benefits are declining across the board, and health costs are being shifted to employees in the form of higher co-payments, deductibles and premiums. Maryland’s defined-benefit pension plan has been replaced with 403(c) plans with ever-dwindling state contributions.

The relentless drive to reduce costs is understandable. Economies of scale longer guarantee competitive advantage and universities are no longer considered “ivory towers” but rather “players in the economy.” Yet it is also the case that the compensation of upper management has escalated in recent years.

It is the core belief of AFSCME Local 1072 that “we are still all in it together.” University staff has both the expertise and the unique vision to help this institution Zoom! Pop management fads such as “shared governance” have failed to get our point across. Only collective bargaining gives our voice the strength to communicate our knowledge and vision.

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