Q&A with Mary Jo Maydew: The Fair Labor Code Issue
Three members of
the Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees met with representatives
of the Student Coalition for Action and other members of the
Fair Labor Code Coalition on Thursday evening, February 26,
and listened to the concerns voiced by that group regarding
labor practices at Mount Holyoke, in particular, and within
the construction industry, in general. The full board then
discussed the Fair Labor Code Coalition’s call that the
College adopt a Fair Labor Code of Conduct.
This week, Board of Trustees Chair Eleanor Graham Claus ’55 and President
Joanne V. Creighton reported on the board meeting in a letter to the community.
According to that letter:
“The Board discussed labor practices at Mount Holyoke,
informed by the December 8, 2003 letter to the Mount Holyoke
Community of the Multicultural Community and College Life Committee
(MCCL) and by an oral summary of a conversation that three trustees
had with representatives from the Student Coalition for Action
on Thursday evening. The Board noted that the campus has been
through a long and thoughtful process to consider whether Mount
Holyoke wants or needs a Fair Labor Code of Conduct and that
all members of the College community have had the opportunity
to present their views and to debate the issues. Given the MCCL’s
conclusion from this process that the will of the Mount Holyoke
community was not to enact such a code, the Board concluded that
no action was appropriate on its part. The Board was pleased
to hear that the president had moved forward on the MCCL’s
recommendation that the ombudsperson position be filled as quickly
In the interview below, we asked Vice
President for Finance and Administration Mary Jo Maydew to discuss
the issues involved and to respond to the claims and demands
of the Fair Labor Code Coalition.
Q: What is a Fair Labor Code of Conduct?
A: A set of principles that describes how an organization will
behave with regard to issues of compensation, working conditions,
and other related topics.
Q: Has the College considered a Fair Labor Code of Conduct?
A: Yes. For the past 18 months, the Multicultural Community and
College Life Committee, composed of faculty, staff, and students,
has discussed the desirability of a Fair Labor Code of Conduct
for Mount Holyoke through its Fair Labor Practices Subcommittee.
Q: What was the result of that process?
A: After much campus discussion, the Fair Labor Practices Subcommittee
issued a report in June 2003 that did not establish a code
of conduct but did propose four recommendations. MCCL reviewed
the subcommittee’s recommendations, received additional
input from the community, and, in a December 8, 2003 letter
to President Creighton and the community, declined to endorse
the recommendations. On February 20, 2004, President Creighton
wrote to members of the community accepting MCCL’s report.
Q: Why did the MCCL choose not to put forward the recommendations
of the Fair Labor Practices Subcommittee?
A: In his December 2003 letter, MCCL Chair Craig Woodard stated
that “a large segment of the community expressed their
view, that taken together, the recommendations are too much like
a code of conduct, which was rejected during the FLPS dialogue
with the campus community last year. Conversely, other respondents
felt that the recommendations were too vague to be useful.”
Q: How do Mount Holyoke staff members feel about a Fair Labor
Code of Conduct?
A: The vast majority of staff have expressed themselves as being
opposed to a Fair Labor Code of Conduct in any form.
Q: Did the College take any action in response to the MCCL report?
A: Yes. The MCCL report recommended that the vacant ombudsperson
position be filled, which has been accomplished. As President
Creighton’s recent letter announces, Adrianne Andrews
began work as Mount Holyoke’s ombudsperson on March 2
(see article on page one). In addition, MCCL pointed to feedback
from some employees about issues or problems in their workplace.
Human Resources Director Lauren Turner has met with MCCL to
get more detailed information, which she will share with members
of the senior staff so that appropriate action can be taken.
Q: Throughout the past few years, while
major construction was under way on the science center and
other projects, the Student Coalition for Action and the Western
Union Local 108 alleged that construction workers were treated
unfairly while working here. That claim was made again at the
rally last Thursday. Is it true?
A: The statement that workers on College projects were treated
unfairly is largely based on their belief that all workers should
be employees and that the independent subcontractor model (in
which workers are self-employed) is inherently unfair. The College
disagrees. Independent subcontracting is a model that is completely
legal and is practiced by a majority of workers in Massachusetts.
Q: What is an independent subcontractor and how is it different
from an employee?
A: An employee of an organization receives wages and benefits
from the hiring organization, including health insurance, worker’s
compensation insurance, and whatever other benefits the employer
offers. Independent subcontractors are individuals who are in
business for themselves. They contract with organizations to
perform a job for an agreed-upon price (which may be for the
entire job or at a rate per time period). That price includes
the cost of the independent subcontractor providing his or her
own benefits and insurance. While employees typically have one
or two primary jobs with the same employers, independent subcontractors
move from job to job and typically work for a wider variety of
organizations. While the Fair Labor Code of Conduct discussions
have focused almost exclusively on independent subcontractors
in the construction industry, there are many other kinds of independent
subcontractors used by the College, from freelance writers to
technology consultants to caterers. Independent contractors may
be a single individual or an organization that may have employees
or may use other independent subcontractors as workers.
Q: What about the claim by the Fair Labor Coalition that construction
workers are being illegally misclassified as independent subcontractors?
A: Whether a worker is an employee or an independent subcontractor
is determined by a 20-point classification system developed by
the Internal Revenue Service. While there is some judgment needed
in interpreting the system, if the worker’s situation is
predominately as described in the classification system, that
worker is properly an employee and legally must be treated as
such. If a worker feels that he or she has been misclassified,
the appropriate course of action is a complaint to the state
and national Departments of Labor, who regulate this area. However,
whenever anyone has expressed concern to the College that workers
were being illegally misclassified, we have investigated. This
has happened twice in recent years, and in both cases a review
of the criteria being used and the documentation provided did
not demonstrate any misclassification.
Q: Or the claim by the Fair Labor Coalition that day laborers
have been mistreated?
A: A number of allegations were made about the treatment of workers
from Labor Ready, a firm that supplies day laborers to construction
jobs. The allegations brought to our attention were investigated
and found to be without merit in most instances. In a few instances,
inappropriate behavior (primarily with regard to how individuals
were assigned to jobs) had been identified prior to our investigation
and the individuals responsible had been replaced.
Q: The current demands by the Fair Labor
Coalition go beyond the Fair Labor Code of Conduct that was
considered by the MCCL. For example, they want the College
to ensure that all workers on campus, including temporary and
day laborers, will be paid a minimum wage of $12 an hour. What’s
the College response?
A: The College pays competitive wages to all of its employees,
although some do make less than $12 an hour. However, the College
has no control over what organizations who do business with the
College pay their workers. Trying to require this of other organizations
would simply mean that they would not do business with the College
and their behavior would remain unchanged.
The living wage issue is an important public policy issue, but it is one that
cannot be solved by Mount Holyoke College. Those who wish to engage the issue
can best do that by contacting their state and federal legislators and advocating
for increases in the minimum wage.
Q: The Fair Labor Coalition also wants
the College to contract with companies that don’t use
independent subcontractors. Why is the College resistant to
A: The majority of construction firms and many other organizations
and individuals use the independent subcontractor model. By restricting
itself to the minority of firms who use only employees, the College
loses flexibility, has fewer choices of whom to contract with,
and almost certainly pays higher prices. Doing so would penalize
Mount Holyoke (since all other institutions would continue to
be free to use independent subcontractors) without changing any
Q: The Fair Labor Coalition also wants
employees to have the right to unionize or not, as they see
fit. Don’t Mount
Holyoke employees already have this right?
A: All U.S. employees in certain categories (basically nonmanagement
and some professional staff) have the legal right to unionize.
The College respects the right of groups of employees to choose
to unionize if they wish to do so.
Q: Finally, the Coalition wants to establish
a Fair Labor Practices Committee to monitor the College’s
adherence to this policy. The Committee would include faculty,
staff, and students and be chaired by the ombudsperson. What
is your reaction to this idea?
A: That it’s impractical on a number of levels. The College
at any point in time has hundreds of consulting relationships
entered into virtually every day by many different offices on
campus. So the volume is formidable. In addition, these individuals
or organizations are not subject to the College’s scrutiny
and cannot be made to comply with such a process. Mount Holyoke
has virtually no control over the employment practices of other
Currently when issues are raised or complaints received, they are investigated
by the College administrators who are directly involved in the contractual
relationship. Because of that relationship, firms will usually do us the courtesy
of responding to our questions and providing the relevant documentation, but
we cannot require them to do so. If we become dissatisfied with an organization’s
performance or practices, we will not continue to do business with them, but
that is our only leverage. Given that, these discussions are best handled by
those in the College who are closest to the contractual relationship.
Q: The Fair Labor Coalition has vowed to
keep pushing this issue and may continue to do so despite the
decision the College community has arrived at already through
the MCCL process and the Board’s
declining to intervene. What is the administration’s reaction
A: The campus has been through a long and thoughtful process
to consider whether Mount Holyoke wants or needs a Fair Labor
Code of Conduct. All members of the College community have had
the opportunity to present their views. The College committee
charged with making a recommendation has not brought forward
either a code of conduct or a set of recommendations on these
issues. This has been a good process and a decision has been
reached and accepted. The Fair Labor Coalition should respect