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April 18, 2002

Starting salaries in 4 Pitt pay grades are lower than recommended minimum living wage

Minimum salaries in at least four of the University's 12 staff pay grades fall below the recommended living wage for Allegheny County workers, as set by Pitt's own University Center for Social and Urban Research.

A 1997 study led by UCSUR research associate Ralph Bangs set recommended minimum living wages for county workers, based on meeting the basic needs of a family comprising two working adults and two children. "Basic needs" were defined as food, housing, health care, transportation, clothing, personal care, child care, life insurance, a telephone and a newspaper.

As of 2000, when Bangs last updated his figures, the recommended minimum living wage for an Allegheny County worker receiving health benefits was $9.12 an hour — or $17,784 per year, based on Pitt's 37.5-hour work week for staff.

That's more than the current minimum salaries in Pitt pay grades 1 ($11,040) through 4 ($15,780).

Bangs said it's likely that the current minimum salary for Pitt's pay grade 5 ($17,916) also would fall below the current minimum living wage, if inflation over the last two years were figured in.

Except for the midpoint salary for pay grade 1 ($16,344), the midpoint and maximum salaries for all Pitt pay grades exceed the $9.12-an-hour living wage. See chart on page 3.

Recently, a report by Pitt's Office of Institutional Research showed that, as of last fall, non-unionized staff in only a few Pittsburgh campus responsibility centers were receiving average and/or median (the point at which an equal number of employees earn more or less) salaries below the recommended $17,784 living wage.

They included 99 secretaries and clerical workers in Pitt auxiliary services offices ($17,072 average, $16,500 median), 17 secretarial and clerical staff in the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences ($16,038 median), and 12 secretaries and clerical workers in the College of Arts and Sciences ($17,760 median). In the Office of Human Resources, the average salary among 18 technical, skilled and service staff was $17,802. See salary report story in the April 4 University Times.

During a discussion of the salary report last Friday by the University Senate budget policies committee (BPC), Vice Chancellor for Budget and Controller Arthur G. Ramicone said: "Although I sometimes wonder how people can live on these salaries, what Pitt pays [its lower-salaried staff] is the going wage locally for these types of positions."

Ramicone urged BPC to look not just at salaries but also at fringe benefits available to Pitt staff — benefits that include the University's comparatively generous, contributory pension plans; free Port Authority bus and trolley rides; access to campus recreational facilities, and tuition benefits that enable staff, their spouses and children to earn University degrees at a small fraction of full tuition.

Ramicone cited an office in his administrative area (he declined to specify which office) that is, he said, staffed almost entirely by single or divorced women with children. "These staff tell us that what they are most concerned about are the tuition benefit and medical coverage," he said.

It's not unusual for secretaries and clerical staff to leave higher-paying jobs at banks and other Downtown employers in order to work at the University and utilize its tuition benefit, said Ramicone.

UCSUR's Bangs acknowledged that "having a good benefits package compensates for low salaries to some degree. But in setting a minimum living wage you're talking about meeting basic needs such as housing and food, and benefits may not meet basic needs.

"For example, getting free [Port Authority] rides is a nice fringe benefit," Bangs said. "But not everyone can use public transportation to get to work or to meet basic needs such as shopping for food or visiting their doctor."

UCSUR's 1997 living-wage report concluded that in Allegheny County, 200,000 working-age adults and 111,000 children were living in families that lacked the income to meet specified basic needs.

The Alliance for Progressive Action, a coalition of groups pushing for living-wage initiatives, made UCSUR's study a cornerstone of its campaign. That campaign was stopped in its tracks last month, legislation-wise, when Pittsburgh City Council effectively killed the city's living wage requirement (which had been set to go into effect April 1) by voting 5-4 to delay implementation until Allegheny County approves a similar policy.

With city and county living-wage legislation "dead," as Bangs characterized it, the Alliance for Progressive Action has focused on pressing Pitt and other individual employers to adopt living-wage policies.

Pitt senior officials "haven't taken a position" on the living-wage issue, said Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Robert Hill.

— Bruce Steele

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