ACC employees are struggling with the cost of living. The college says it's doing what it can.
When Anthony Mignini got an offer to renew the lease on his last apartment, the rent had gone up $450. That was a huge jump for the science lab technician who’s been working at Austin Community College for more than three years.
He was already struggling with the rising cost of living in Austin.
"I can’t remember the last time I bought beef at the store, for example," he said. "Like I can’t afford to buy ground beef ... in Texas!”
Mignini knew his colleagues were also having a hard time getting by.
“I kind of felt like I have to do something to try and increase, not just my wage, but also support my colleagues,” he said.
'It's kind of heartbreaking'
Mignini is a member of the Austin Community College American Federation of Teachers union, which has been advocating for a 10% across-the-board raise for employees in the budget for the next fiscal year.
José Resendez, a regional director of learning support services at ACC, is the union's vice president for professional and technical employees. He said the union has been pushing for a 10% salary increase because the inflation rate has surpassed 9%.
"There’s a big need for a substantial raise just for us to maintain our cost of living here and be able to afford to remain here and serve our community.”José Resendez, regional director of learning support services at ACC
“So, realistically anything below 9.1%, it doesn’t cover inflation for us,” he said. “I think that’s a fundamental core of our campaign. There’s a big need for a substantial raise just for us to maintain our cost of living here and be able to afford to remain here and serve our community.”
Resendez, who has worked at ACC for seven years, said he’s had nothing but positive experiences and that’s part of what makes the current situation so difficult.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking, almost, to have to be in this situation where it’s a place that I really like and value," he said. "But at the same time, it’s no longer as competitive as it used to be.”
Anaka Rivera has been working at ACC for 16 years. She says during that time, her raises have been negligible, but her passion for her work has kept her at the school.
“It’s in the classroom where I thrive and know what my mission and my purpose is, which is to educate generation after generation of students and it’s such an honor to be able to do that,” said Rivera, who teaches political science. “But I also have seen personally the lack of progress in being able to move up in this institution.”
The compensation package
The Austin Community College board of trustees is set to vote on a compensation package when it meets Monday. At previous board meetings, trustees have encouraged ACC officials to try to come up with more money to retain and attract employees.
That message was loud and clear for Neil Vickers, ACC’s vice chancellor of finance and administration, after the board meeting in July.
“I think that there was generally support for [the proposed compensation package] but there was also a desire to see, can we do even more? Especially for the lower paid employees,” he said.
The base proposal Vickers plans to present to trustees Monday remains largely the same, but there are some changes. ACC wants to give each full-time salaried employee either a 5% or a $5,000 raise, whichever is greater. Vickers points out this means some employees will get at least a 10% raise and for others it will be even higher. The college is also proposing raising the hourly minimum wage from $15.60 to $18.
A new part of the compensation package would result in a 28% raise for the lowest-paid full-time staff. The current minimum salary for a full-time employee is $32,448. ACC is proposing the minimum annual salary increase by more than $9,000 to $41,600, which works out to $20 an hour.
Another change is a one-time payment to try to provide employees immediate relief. How big the payment is depends on an employee’s role and salary. A full-time salaried employee making less than $50,000 would receive $1,000, as would adjunct faculty with a certain class load this fall. Part-time, salaried employees would get a prorated amount, and people in hourly jobs would get $250 if they’ve been working at the college for at least six months.
The one-time payments would cost the college $3.1 million. Vickers said ACC will cover that cost with money it was going to put into cash reserves. All together, the compensation package totals $19.8 million, and the average raise for employees would be 7.6%.
Part-timers and adjunct faculty
Rivera doesn't know what her raise would be under ACC’s proposal, because she has combined two jobs at the college to create one full-time position.
“For employees like myself it is always the institution picking and choosing what rights and responsibilities I have,” she said. “I imagine that I will be one of the last to know how exactly I will be considered in the cost-of-living adjustments.”
While there are more than 2,100 full-time salaried staff at ACC, more than half the college’s workforce does not fall into that category, and the raise structure is different for them.
Part-time salaried employees are set to receive prorated raises under the college’s proposal. For example, someone working 24 hours per week making an annual salary of $40,000 would get a $3,000 raise rather than a $5,000 raise.
ACC said adjunct faculty would receive a raise that is comparable to full-time faculty with similar education and experience. Unlike full-time faculty, though, adjunct faculty are not salaried. Instead they are paid based on what’s known as a “lecture equivalent hour” rate. So if a full-time faculty member is getting an 8% raise, an adjunct faculty member getting paid $1,159 per lecture equivalent hour would see that rate increase to $1,251.
Government professor David Albert, who is president of the union, has been especially critical of the raises for adjunct faculty, saying the way they have been calculated is flawed.
“I think we really have to seriously examine how these raises are being applied to our adjunct faculty, because it is not an equitable approach,” he said at last month’s board of trustees meeting.
Rivera said while ACC has done a lot for students —including not raising tuition for a ninth consecutive year — it could do more for staff.
“When we take a look at the accomplishments of the college for staff, that has been far slower a response and yet we are on the ground serving students,” she said.
'Doing more than most'
Vickers said he hopes employees see ACC is doing what it can to increase wages, but he understands that at the end of the day it could fall short.
“We’re definitely doing more than most, and I think honestly we’ll tell the employees that. Now if you’re struggling to make ends meet that doesn’t help you actually pay the bills, right?” he said.
Vickers added ACC may need to be prepared to offer a relatively high raise in the 2023-2024 budget, too.
Mignini said he appreciates what ACC is trying to do this year. As a full-time salaried employee, he stands to get a $5,000 raise. But, he said, if rent keeps climbing, he’s not sure he will be able to afford living in Austin.
“It’s just that it’s not a fair deal for people to go to work and not have any money left over after paying for food and rent,” he said. "There’s no point in continuing in that kind of job.”