University workers rely on aid


AUGUSTA – Almost 40 percent of the clerical and support staff who work for the state university system had to seek financial help from the state, friends or family in 2005, according to a new survey.

Produced by ACSUM, the Maine Education Association-affiliated union that represents support staff in the University of Maine System, the survey gathered data from its members. Titled “Personal Economies II: We Can’t Eat Prestige,” the report follows up on a similar study conducted in 2002.

“We’ve actually gone backwards since the 2002 survey,” said ACSUM President Jim Bradley, who works at L-A College in Lewiston. “Not only has our economic position not improved, it’s gotten worse. Financially speaking, members of our union are hurting.”

Besides the reliance on public and private assistance, the survey found that the average wage for full-time support staff lags 22 percent behind the state’s average per capita income, 34 percent behind the national average and 63 percent behind the New England average. Further, one in five ACSUM members must work a second job to make ends meet.

“Once again well-researched analysis confirms that the University of Maine System exploits its clerical, office, laboratory and technical workers by failing to pay far too many of them a livable wage,” wrote Rob Walker, the president of the Maine Education Association, in a letter accompanying the survey.

ACSUM, which represents the associated clerical, office, laboratory and technical staff of the University of Maine System, is one of four unions in labor negotiations with the university system. The others are the University of Maine System Professional Staff, Associated Faculties of the University of Maine System and the Part-time Faculty Association. Of the four, ACSUM members are typically the lowest paid.

“There’s a real gender issue here,” Bradley said. Of ACSUM’s members, 86 percent are female. “I think the university largely sees our people as secretaries, answering the phones and writing letters. That’s the stereotype placed on our (union). …The university isn’t acknowledging any of the technical knowledge our employees are gaining.”

According to survey data, the average wage for all ACSUM members is $22,594 annually, an increase of $16 since 2002. For a 12-month, full-time employee, the average yearly wage in 2005 was $24,646, up from $23,170 in 2002. To keep up with inflation, the salary needed to be $25,174.

In 2004, the statewide per capita income was $29,973, the study reported.

According to Bradley, the lowest hourly wage for ACSUM members is $7.66 per hour.

Negotiations between the unions and the university system are continuing. A mediation session was scheduled for Wednesday, with two additional meetings planned.

The two sides remain separated over the amount employees should pay for health insurance. Contract offers from the university would increase employee health insurance premiums by as much as 35 percent. For a family receiving comprehensive coverage, the university’s costs would go up $28 a year; the families’ costs would increase more than $500, Bradley said.

“For the last two years, the university’s health care costs have come in millions less than what they anticipated,” Bradley said. “The bottom line is that the board of trustees wants employees to pay a higher percentage of the cost of health insurance. Wages aren’t keeping up enough to do that.”

Bradley is running for the Legislature from the 100th District as a Democrat.