Who Are These People and Where Did The Come From Anyway?
compiled from the MCSC Archives by Michael Warner
In the 1960's, when Middlebury College last grew the size of its student body, there were changes in store for the staff as well. During the 60's, 70's and early 80's the size of the staff grew dramatically. As the numbers of staff increased, their jobs became increasingly varied and complex. AND so it seems did the concerns related to their employment.
The Personnel office of the time, while doing a great job of explaining benefits, was not always meant as a place to take issues of concern or suggestions for change. They simply weren't equipped to handle these types of questions. There were no formal channels for expressing concerns to the "administration," let alone discussing solutions with them. For many members of the staff this led to a great deal of frustration and unhappiness--not necessarily because they were unhappy with their employment at Middlebury College--rather quite the opposite. Being dedicated and involved employees they were interested in bettering Middlebury College and fostering a relationship with their employer based on mutual trust, respect and hard work.
In 1981, a group of concerned staff members from various sectors of campus began to meet during their lunch breaks. They compared notes about their concerns and questions regarding their employment and they sought an avenue for addressing their issues.
In April of 1981, 15 staff members sent a letter to David Ginevan, then the Associate College Treasurer, detailing some of the issues raised at these meetings. Of the more than 30 staff who attended the meetings--only half of them felt comfortable enough to sign this letter. Fear and distrust were very real for many staff on the campus. Listed as concerns were: medical and dental benefits, maternity benefits, salary levels, lack of job classifications, the vacation policy.
They simply suggested, "We would like to open some channels of communication with the administration, whereby representatives of the administration and the staff could meet together to begin to address some of our concerns."
That was the beginning of what, several years later, became the Staff Council. Mr. Ginevan met with members of this group and held a series of meetings with a broader range of staff. While it was still a long way from being a representative voice, and thus stymied in many of its efforts, it was the start of a more formal dialogue.
In 1986, a second effort began which was to finally set the course toward the first formally recognized and elected Staff Council. The new group gave itself a name: The Middlebury College Staff Association and set up a steering committee. At initial meetings, to which all staff were invited, common areas of concern were identified and committees were set up to deal with them: Compensation, Work Environment, Publicity and Events, Staff Development. Anyone could volunteer to be on a committee. Each committee had co-chairs and those co-chairs served together as the Executive Committee. Eventually, the Staff Association changed its name to Staff Council.
The administration was still hesitant to deal with this group--as volunteers they were easy targets for the criticism that they did not democratically represent the staff as a whole. Even among some members of the staff they were seen as rabble-rousers! Yet the voluntary Staff Council worked away, gathering issues, talking with more and more members of the staff--gathering momentum.
In late-1987, the discussion of staff representation took a more formal turn. The Staff Council Executive Committee, working with President Robison and other members of the administration, drafted a formal Constitution which was presented it to the entire staff.
Finally, in the summer of 1988, after several drafts, many meetings and much hard work, the MCSC Constitution was put to an all-staff referendum vote. It was overwhelmingly approved! The Middlebury College Board of Trustees also approved the MCSC Constitution. (The MCSC Constitution was reviewed and revised after the first year and again in 1993. Each revision has also received the staff's overwhelming approval.)
The stated purpose of the MCSC in its Constitution is to help "make Middlebury College a better place to work." Those are positive and powerful words which set the Staff Council's challenge: to build a positive and effective reputation without becoming either adversaries or advocates of the administration.
As an official elected body, the Middlebury College Staff Council, represents all non-faculty staff members at Middlebury--more than 600 people. Currently, there are nine members who are elected to represent the following groups of staff: one each from Facilities Management--Physical plant, Facilities Management--Custodial, Dining Services, and Supervisory/Administrative; four members are elected to serve as District representatives--one from each of our four districts determined by building worked in; one representative serves as a Member-at-Large and is elected by the entire staff.
The College Treasurer/Vice President for Administration serves on the Council as a non-voting member. Currently he has officially designated the Assistant Treasurer/Director of Human Resources as his representative. On a regular basis, the executive officers of the Council meet with the College President. The President also meets with the MCSC as a whole when the need arises. About once a year there is a meeting between representatives of the Board of Trustees and members of the MCSC. The Staff Council has a regular college budget which is administered by the MCSC president.
The MCSC is an advisory group which is empowered to make suggestions and recommendations. The MCSC does not have bargaining or negotiating power. For the Administration to bargain with the council would be illegal.
The Council has many successes during the past 7 years including:
The creation of the Ombudsperson program in 1988 and its subsequent expansion from 2 Ombudspersons to 6 in 1993 came after recommendations to the College President. While the Ombudspersons are appointed by and report directly to the College President, the Council makes recommendations for appointment. Equalizing the vacation schedule for full-time monthly and full-time hourly employees came after recommendations from the MCSC. The Council also played a part in the creation of a new employee orientation program. Working with the administration, the Reduction in Force (RIF) Policy was developed by the MCSC after the layoffs in 1991. The intent of the RIF Policy is to clarify the steps to be followed should such an event occur again in the future. The MCSC also made recommendations for a severance package which was eventually offered to the individuals who were laid-off. Formal written Grievance procedures along with a Grievance Appeals procedure and formal Progressive Discipline procedures were crafted by the Council and approved by the administration. Through the efforts of the Staff Council major revision of the College Handbook occurred in 1988 and 1989. In consultation with Human Resources, the Council has also been part of several subsequent revisions. The MCSC ensured that there was staff representation on the long-range planning committee. The Council added its voice to the decision to add Sexual Orientation to the College's non-discrimination policy in 1991. In 1992 Middlebury implemented theWage and Salary program and thejob evaluation program. The council played an "advisory" roll directly influencing the final product. (For example, arguing strongly against caps on wages.) Likewise, the Council played an advisory role as the Voluntary Separation and subsequentRestructuring Programs were developed in 1993. While the MCSC did not draft the Domestic Partner benefits policy, it did have a representative on the committee which developed the final draft. For full-time employees, the removal of the sick leave cap and conversion of sick days to insured days at retirement was discussed with the Council before being enacted by the College. The MCSC has held several arts and crafts shows which highlighted the artistic talents of the staff. Other areas where the Council has had influence on college policies include: job postings, mileage reimbursement, the ability to take one's personal day in half day increments, the Suggest-It program, changes to the medical and dental plans, a review of EBPA's service to the college, etc. The Council has been consulted regarding the Harassment policy, development and revision of a campus-wide pet policy, adapting the College's smoking policy to meet state laws, etc. One area where the Staff Council has a great effect on Campus-wide issues is through the various appointments and recommendation for appointment which it makes each year. Those include but are not limited to: Community Council, Computer Committee, College Safety Committee, Residential Life Committee among others. Additionally, the President of the MCSC serves on the Overview Team which brings the staff's voice to an important group whose other members are the College Vice Presidents. As the need arises the Council's advice is sought for appointments to various non-standing committees such as the Insurance Review Committee and the Long Range planning Committee.
Once elected, members of the Staff Council are responsible to their constituents and to the Council. Each elected representative brings the perspective and experience of the groups they represent to the discussion table.
In spite of the fact that the MCSC is not a labor negotiating group or an arbitration board, through its many efforts the staff of Middlebury College now has a recognized channel to the administration and a relied upon voice with the administration.
Although our representative body is now elected, the MCSC is still made up of volunteers--dedicated, hardworking concerned employees who hope to help "make Middlebury College a better place to work" for all of us!