Faculty union reacts to Brewster’s raise, by asking, “what about us?”

Union representatives for faculty at Grays Harbor College will meet early next week with college administrators to discuss faculty wages they consider to be too low. The meeting comes in the wake of President Ed Brewster’s new three-year contract, which includes an annual salary increase of $36,000. The college’s Board of Trustees approved the 24 percent raise at its July meeting.

Brewster’s salary is now $185,000 per year, compared to his previous annual pay of $149,000. The raise was retroactive to July 1. The board also approved its budget at the meeting.

“This action by the Board is in the interest of retaining Dr. Brewster in his position as president of Grays Harbor College, since he has been actively recruited by other colleges for presidential positions over the past two years,” said Board of Trustees President Art Blauvelt in an email to The Daily World. He also pointed out that the 24 percent increase would equate to a 2.6 percent annual adjustment over the past nine years Brewster has been in the position. “We are also aware that if Dr. Brewster left Grays Harbor College, we would need to pay his replacement at or above the state average salary for community and technical college presidents.”

In the last nine years, the only increase in Brewster’s salary was due to a cost of living increase enacted by the Legislature in 2007 for all college’s employees.

Brewster said he has been contacted by other colleges about other positions, with salaries higher than his own — though he said he preferred not to disclose where or what positions they were.

Blauvelt pointed out that, in 2011, Brewster’s salary was the seventh lowest of 38 comparable positions. “His salary was $25,000 below the average for the colleges in 2010-2011,” Blauvelt added.

Blauvelt said there were a number of other reasons the board could list as to why Brewster deserves the raise, but that the law is clear in that it must be for “retention only.”

“Trustees cannot adjust presidents’ salaries for the reasons that would clearly warrant Dr. Brewster’s raise, i.e., performance,” he said. “For example, GHC being rated No. 1 in the state, effective leadership, success during very difficult economic times, community involvement, statewide recognition for his work on community college boards and issues, and many other reasons.”

Washington Monthly magazine recently named GHC as its top-rated community college in the state and rated it 15th in the nation overall.

In learning of the salary increase, faculty union representatives held an impromptu meeting Thursday afternoon, with about 40 people in attendance, according to union activist Lynne Lerych. President of the Grays Harbor College Federation of Teachers, Thomas Kuester, communicated with The Daily World on behalf of the union and faculty members, saying he feels the same principle of working to “attract and retain good people” to work at the college, should be a priority for faculty members as well as administrative positions.

“I feel that it’s important that GHC should pay its employees wages that are competitive with those of comparable employees at other colleges,” he said. “… So if the substantial raises recently given to high administrators at GHC was to establish competitive wages, then in the interest of fairness, we should also recognize that, while GHC faculty were instrumental in achieving a number one ranking in the state, our salaries do not reflect that.”

The board had been having discussions in regard to raising Brewster’s pay nearer to the state average for several years, according to Brewster. The current state average salary for presidents or chancellors of community and technical colleges is $178,638, according to a March 2013 survey provided by the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

“I was surprised they decided to move ahead with it,” Brewster said, adding he plans to continue working in the GHC position that he “loves” for the foreseeable future.

“It was certainly all I needed,” he said of the pay raise, and his decision to stay.

While Brewster had not received a raise in some time, 9 percent pay increases to other lead administrators at the college last year was cause for some questions from the college’s union representatives. Many were upset such increases came at the same time as a wage freeze for faculty and a 3 percent pay cut instituted for support personnel.

Kuester said that while he understands the raises were given to retain quality professionals, he believes the same applies for faculty.

“Last year the college’s three vice presidents received 9 percent raises. The total of these raises, the vice presidents’ and the president’s totals just over $60,000. That’s well over my annual salary. In fact, the amount of these increases would exceed my total annual salary even if I were to receive a 24 percent raise, and I’ve been working at the college for 17 years,” he said.

The 3 percent pay cut has been restored across the board for “classified” staff, which includes office assistant positions, maintenance and custodial positions — a restoration that Brewster fought for, according to Blauvelt.

Brewster also pointed out that some classified staff also received actual raises.

As to faculty, Brewster said that once the contract is negotiated locally, further changes to salary must be negotiated. But, Blauvelt pointed out, Brewster has fought for adjustments to faculty members’ pay if they receive additional training or take on extra responsibilities. Brewster also said they are currently in the midst of discussions with faculty about use of turnover savings, the difference in pay between what they were paying faculty who left the college and the amount they now pay individuals who replaced them. However, the use of turnover savings is restricted to paying for earned increments on the salary schedule for one or more people, but they cannot give an across the board raise to all faculty members with those savings, according to Brewster.

He said there were no other substantial administrative raises, but that there were some “adjustments” made at different levels throughout the college, such as replacing positions recently vacated with differently named and higher-paid positions. For example, the financial aid director position is now an assistant dean position.

Union representatives plan to meet as early as Monday, according to Lerych, who said they hope to accomplish finding a solution to faculty wages she says are currently “really low.”

The average annual salary of faculty members at the college as of fall 2011 was $52,034, compared to a statewide community college system average of $55,817, according to the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges. The results for the past year won’t be available for several months.

Kuester said coming to an agreement in the coming week will be important in several ways.

“Beyond addressing the issue of fairness, such a move would help to attract and retain good faculty and help to maintain GHC’s strong record of service to its community.”