In May 2015, the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies launched a new student award called the Bevan-Dillingham Scholarship, named in honor of two administrative assistants for the department: Joan Bevan and Mary Dillingham. At the time, Mary Dillingham was the administrative assistant for the department. The department’s chair, faculty and students all viewed Mary as the backbone of the department. And after years in her position, Mary had both the skills and institutional memory that made her invaluable to not only her department, but other administrative assistants throughout the university.
Two months after the award was finalized, Youngstown State University’s administration announced they were transferring Mary Dillingham to a different sector of the university. It was not only a blow to the department and its students, but a signal to other staff throughout the college. YSU’s administration saw no value in strong work ethics and a history of exemplary service. After spending a year learning and working in a whole new area of work, Mary Dillingham submitted her formal notice that she was retiring. Unfortunately, this example is not an exception, but a trend at Youngstown State University.
While companies like Target have increased their wages for their employees, YSU has opted for seeking ways to bring down the wages and chosen to get their labor as cheaply as possible.
YSU has repeatedly offered ACE – the Association of Classified Employees – abysmal contracts. For over six years, employees have not had their wages increased. In 2014, the administration imposed a contract on ACE employees. This year, there are rumblings that this trend will continue for another three years. Not only would this financial treatment fail to keep up with inflation, but YSU is raising the cost of ACE’s health care contributions. If ACE employees do not get a substantial raise this year, they will receive less money per paycheck under the new contract than they did last year.
For those unfamiliar with ACE, the union represents a myriad of classified employees at YSU. The members are librarian technicians, who tirelessly search out interlibrary loan and Ohio Link connections to locate books and articles for students, researchers and lecturers. Some of its members are the information technology personnel who run the internet, computers and phones on campus – and enable students, staff and faculty to communicate and for classrooms to operate. Some members are the maintenance workers who keep computer labs, classrooms, offices and departments running. And then there are the clerical staff like Mary Dillingham, who serve as departmental ambassadors to the students and the world at large.
It is understandable for a company or college to want to reduce labor costs. The problem is that YSU has underpaid their employees for quite some time. The rumbling about the new contract smacks of disrespect. Such a business decision will yield little to no positive results for the people who rely on ACE employees for their support. The Board of Trustees should consider if they want YSU to continue paying the lowest amount that they can get away with. Furthermore, they might want to examine the relationship between poor employee relations and customer satisfaction.
YSU should cultivate pride – not only in its name, but in the people who embody the name. If we want YSU to become the beacon of the Mahoning Valley and to help the region raise the standard of living, then we have to cultivate an inviting work environment. This requires treating all employees better and compensating them appropriately for their hard work.