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Mount Holyoke Trustees Approve 13 Faculty Chairs

Mount Holyoke Welcomes New Ombudsperson Adrianne Andrews

A Q&A with Mary Jo Maydew: The Fair Labor Code Issue

Packard Receives Grant to Study Low-Income Urban Youth

A Message to the Junior Show 2004 from President Creighton

Women Entrepreneurs

Spring Flower Show

Bob Schwartz: Mapping History in the Classroom

Registrar’s Office to Unveil SIS

Model United Nations Conference March 4–7

Dogsledding and Snowshoeing Enliven January Term

2004 Mary Lyon Award Winners Announced

Holyoke Photographer Documents History at Nuremberg Trials

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This Week at MHC

Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

March 12 , 2004

A 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 as possible.”

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 Massachusetts Carpenter’s 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 this idea?
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 company’s behavior.

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 organizations.

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 to this?
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 that decision.

 

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