After changing university policy to increase the wages and healthcare options for contracted service workers, President Donna E. Shalala clarified her position in a phone interview with The Hurricane on Monday.
Shalala emphasized that the university’s statement, which followed an investigation by a work group, represents new university policy. The university will not be deciding the specifics of new healthcare and wage plans for the companies or telling them which healthcare providers to use.
“We’re laying out policies for the contractors,” Shalala said. “We are not designing the healthcare plan or telling them what company to contract with.”
Shalala said many of the service companies the university contracts with already offer their employees health care, but it is usually unaffordable. The new university policy requires health care to be affordable and include both preventive medicine and hospitalization costs. The president also said that she would expect these healthcare plans to cover dental and vision costs.
The policy will affect the 11 or 12 service companies that the university employs, as well as all future companies the university will contract with.
Shalala said that money to pay for the new policy would not come from tuition this year or next year.
“We had already announced a tuition increase for next year, and I was not about to [change it],” she said. “We wanted to make sure we fulfilled our responsibilities to the students.”
Although she did not say whether tuition would be affected in future years, Shalala said the university would rearrange its budget in order to pay for the new policies.
“We will put off other priorities and I will be saying ‘no’ more,” she said, adding that it is still too early to know which priorities would be affected.
Shalala also said the administration does not yet know what the overall cost of the new policy will be.
Critics have said the wage increase does not consitute a living wage, since the living wage set by Miami-Dade county is $9.81 an hour with health insurance, according to The Miami Herald. However, Shalala said that wage is the county government’s decision for its employees, whereas UM operates based on market, not county, rates.
“We were falling below market rates,” Shalala said, “and are now leading or nearing the top of the market.”
The president also reiterated that the university would remain neutral on the issue of the union between UNICCO workers, UNICCO, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“Our neutrality has never been about salaries and health care,” Shalala said. “The issue of the union is a separate issue that [the workers]have to answer.”
The former secretary of health and human services under the Clinton administration said she thinks it’s important for the university to have set up this policy “carefully and thoughtfully.”
“Our responsibility is to do the right thing here at the University of Miami, and I believe we have,” Shalala said, adding that she does not know how the university’s new policy will affect other county or educational institutions, if at all.
“We’re going to have to tighten our belts to do it,” Shalala said, “but it’s the right thing to do.”
Patricia Mazzei can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.