Staff members opt for voluntary pay freeze

Anya Zentmeyer

In the wake of a wage freeze that affected the staff members at Grand Valley State University, the Clerical, Office and Technical Association have decided in a historical vote to join the rest of the staff by taking a voluntary pay freeze that will forfeit a raise scheduled for Oct. 1, the last in a three-year contract.

“I believe everyone still believes we did the right thing,” said Coreen Pelton, chair of the bargaining committee for the union. “We have generated positive energy – such good will.”

The COTA, affiliated with the Michigan Education Association and first organized in 1979, represents 353 employees at GVSU. Out of the 263 members that voted, 240 voted for the contract, 22 voted against and one abstained.

The COTA was the single bargaining unit on campus in the middle of a contract when the pay freeze was invoked for the other employees – a fact that would have made the university legally obligated to pay the Oct. 1 scheduled raise had membership not voted to join their colleagues. Pelton was optimistic about the decision and, despite the frozen pay, said that “everyone wins with this decision.”

“The students and the university win by holding down costs and having unity amongst the employees with everyone freezing their pay,” Pelton said. “The university will reallocate these funds and the students will benefit from it.”

The COTA members will now receive a ratification extending the contract past some turbulent financial years with a new expiration date of 2014, Pelton said. She added that the decision will also protect COTA’s defined benefit retirement and provide a minimal increase to wages from Oct. 1 of 2011 to Sept. 30 of 2014.

“The COTA members understand the financial burden placed upon our students,” she said. “We wanted to do our part. We wanted to stand together with all employees. We are united in our mission.”

Pelton, who admittedly marveled at the support staff at GVSU, is not alone. Standing among her in appreciation is Student Senate President Jarrett Martus.

“I think this is another action from Grand Valley staff that shows their commitment to the students of Grand Valley,” he said. “Taking a voluntary pay freeze just weeks prior to a scheduled raise is a great act of selflessness. I, on behalf of all students at Grand Valley, commend and thank the COTA for their continuing commitment and sacrifice to all of us as students at this great institution.”

Pelton maintained that she is energized by the vote. Giving to the community that has given her so much, she said, is worth more than her own immediate needs.

“This is the first time in its history that members voted to open a contract and amend it in order to give back,” she said. “Remarkable, isn’t it?”

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