Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday November 12th, 2013, 4:48pm

Report: Pay Gap Between Top Administrators, Workers Skyrockets At University Of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

A new report shows that the pay gap between top University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) administrators and the school's clerical and technical staff have worsened over recent years to the point where many employees have trouble supporting their families and affording basic needs. 

AFSCME Council 31, which represents frontline University of Illinois employees, issued the “University of Inequality?” report Monday, which found that 68 full-time UIUC workers currently make less than $23,550, which is the poverty threshold for a family of four. Meanwhile, the university’s 50 highest-paid employees are set to rake in an average salary of $397,141 each this year, which is a 25 percent increase in average top earnings compared to 2010.

Overall, the top 50 UIUC earners saw an average wage increase of $80,704 over the past three years, according to the report.

In comparison, the average wage for the 50 lowest-paid employees on campus is currently $20,348, which is up just 3.86 percent from the average salary of $19,592, which the bottom-paid workers earned in 2010.

“In the past several years, clerical and technical workers across campus have seen their pay stagnate and workload increase. At the same time, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has managed to find the resources to dramatically increase the compensation for its top administrators and highest paid staff,” the report reads. “Employees doing vital work that serves the community and keeps the university running have been a low priority for the executives that set the budget, and now they are an even lower priority. Many workers struggle just to provide basic necessities to their families.”

Due to low wages, the report showed that more than 2,800 university employees, including food and childcare service providers, clerical workers and others, qualified this year for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Also, almost 3,300 university workers this year were reportedly unable to afford an average three-bedroom apartment in the Champaign-Urbana area with their earnings.

"Big-name administrators and academic superstars couldn't function without the thousands of hard-working men and women who make the university happen," AFSCME Council 31 regional director Jeff Bigelow said in a statement. "[University of Illinois] President [Robert] Easter and the board must acknowledge and confront this growing wage gap and provide a decent standard of living for all university employees."

Easter himself stands to collect a $552,375 salary including bonuses this year, up from $450,000 in 2012, according to university data the union obtain through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. And UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise is expected to see a $530,501 total salary in 2013, up from $512,000 last year.

The union argues that all the raises paid to the top 1 percent of earners at the university since 2010 could have provided a $3,100 wage boost to workers in the bottom 10 percent, allowing many of them to emerge from poverty.

Additionally, the report showed that wage inequality at UIUC disproportionately impacts female employees. Female UIUC workers make up 65 percent, or nearly two-thirds, of the bottom 10-percent wage bracket at the university, while just 17 percent of the top 1 percent of earners is comprised of women.

Meanwhile, the report found that it would take the lowest-paid, current clerical or technical worker 96 years to make what the school’s top-paid employee took home last year. That’s up from 2012, when it would have taken 88 years for the lowest-paid university employee to haul in the top-paid employee’s earnings.

The union says UIUC Janitors, for example, start out making $13.33 an hour. After two years, the janitors earn $18.07 an hour.

Some employees who have worked 20 years with the university’s extension program, which provides nutrition education in schools and communities and other services, are reportedly making $12.40 an hour, according to the union. Other extension program workers with 10 years experience earn $10.40 an hour, the union says.

The report highlighted Belva Blakely, who has worked with the extension program for nearly 10 years in Madison and St. Clair counties. The union writes that Blakely enjoys her job teaching nutrition to young children in schools, but the low wages she earns makes it difficult for her to afford basic needs.

“It is very hard to support herself. She does not grocery shop often and has to give up a lot of social activity because she cannot afford it,” the report reads. “She barely makes it from pay check to check. She believes that the work she and her coworkers do is not valued by the university and that they deserve more.”

UIUC did not return Progress Illinois’ requests for comment for this story by deadline.

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