In an historic vote, the support staff at Grand Valley State University voted overwhelmingly to join the rest of the university’s employees in a wage freeze, giving up a raise scheduled for October 1, the last year of a three-year contract.
The university’s Clerical, Office, and Technical Association, represented by the MEA, voted to ratify the tentative agreement union leaders had reached with Grand Valley’s administration. The COTA represents 353 employees at Grand Valley; 263 members voted; 240 voted for the contract, 22 voted against it, and one person abstained.
“I have never been more proud to be a member of COTA,” Coreen Pelton, chair of the bargaining committee for the union said. “I think this vote showed such a generosity of spirit, and people looking beyond their immediate needs to support our students. This vote was an honorable moment.”
Pelton said that in the end, members voted for the change because they want to support the university and the students, a message the students have already received.
“It’s incredible to attend a university that has employees who are willing to sacrifice financially to benefit students,” Student Senate President Jarrett Martus said. “This is another confirmation that Grand Valley is a unique university.”
COTA was the only bargaining unit on campus in the position of being in the middle of a contract when the pay freeze for other employees was implemented. Had they not voted to open the contract and make this change, the university would have been obligated to pay the 3 percent raise. In an unprecented move at Grand Valley, and perhaps in the state, the membership voted to join their colleagues in a university-wide pay freeze, giving up the scheduled increase.
“I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’ve never asked a unit to open its contract before it expired,” Maggie McCrystal, director of Staff Relations said. “Not only did these members vote to open it, they gave back a raise and accepted a freeze. These employees show us that they believe in the university and its mission to educate and take care of students. This is an incredible day.”
The original agreement would have expired September 30, 2011. The new agreement ratified September 21 initiates the wage freeze for the current year, calls for a 2 percent raise in October 2011, with increases in 2012 and 2013 contingent upon what is happening with other employees at the university.
COTA also joins the rest of the university’s staff in paying more for medical benefits beginning January 2011. The freeze and the changes in the medical plan are all part of Grand Valley’s commitment to being accountable and good stewards of resources.