The University Record, February 25, 1997

LETTERS

Editor's Note: The complete text of this letter is available on the WorldWide Web at http://www.umich.edu/~newsinfo/U_Record/Issues97/Feb25_97/benefit.htm.

Commission for Women Opposes Proposed UH Benefit Changes
Two of the Commission for Women's early successes dealt with benefit upgrades for staff. The Commission was responsible for extending Major Medical Benefits to all non-union staff, and it also championed extending benefits to part-time permanent workers. As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, employee benefits are under attack at the Hospital.

It's like turning back the clock 25 years.

The proposed changes come on the heels of painful staff cuts and after the announced loss of 11 paid days off due to the new Paid Time Off program.

These benefit reductions are very much a women's issue. The total staff at University Hospital is 80 percent women. Ninety-three percent of the office staff are women. Seventy percent percent of the professional and administrative staff are women. The proposed reductions will affect these staff the most, hitting those at the lower pay scales the hardest. The proposed cuts affect only staff. We are told that the doctors are Medical School faculty, and as such are central campus employees exempt from these changes. Medical faculty are 17 percent women and 83 percent men. We question why the University separates Hospital staff from Central Campus staff for benefits purposes while it makes no such distinction about faculty.

Part-time staff are targeted for the deepest cuts and the greatest changes. The proposed cuts are aimed at a population almost exclusively women. Part-time employees make up a quarter of the hospital work force. Most part-timers work between 20 and 27 hours a week and 93 percent of these are women. Unlike full-time employees, they will no longer be eligible for free individual medical coverage.

Women who work part-time enter into an implicit contract with their employer to work harder, longer and more productively in order to have the flexibility for home and family demands. The benefits and flexibility help make up for the lower pay and lost opportunities for advancement that often accompany such jobs. These workers will be penalized twice if these cuts are implemented. They already work for significantly less than their actual effort would warrant. Their loyalty, high productivity and willingness to stretch the bounds of their contracted time is demonstrated over and over. We suggest that even factoring in the cost of their benefits, these workers are a net gain for the University, not a loss.

A recently released report shows women in Michigan not only earn less than men in the state, they also earn less than women nationally. For every dollar Michigan men earn, women earn 62 cents. In the 1960s women nationally earned 59 cents for every dollar men earned. By 1995 the national average had narrowed to 76.4 percent. Michigan ranks 45th nationally in the gender wage gap. Consider the fact that the University of Michigan Hospital staff is predominately women and you will see why the Commission for Women feels this is a women's issue and is deeply opposed to cutting the current benefit structure, especially to part-timers.

Karen Dickinson, Monica Johnson, Deborah Orlowski, Elaine Sims, Sharon Weiland
Executive Committee, U-M Commission for Women.