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Pay equity bill dies on BSG Senate floor

by Shelby Toth - Executive Editor
Thu, Feb 21st 2019 01:00 pm

At Brockport Student Government’s (BSG) most recent senate meeting, which took place on Friday, Feb. 8, a bill was introduced that caused controversy among those in attendance before failing to pass through. Bill F-01-19, titled Student Wage Modification for Improved Pay Equity, was presented by Senator Adrianna Thrasher-Scutt as part of the Appropriations Committee report. The bill looked to shift multiple groups within the student government to an hourly rate of pay.

The basis of the bill was to make the pay for the senators, student court justices, the senate parliamentarian and three of the elected executive positions, president, vice president and treasurer, more equitable. The argument presented in the bill is that the aforementioned positions are required by the BSG Constitution and by-laws to work for more hours than their current stipend is set to pay for.

Senators must have three office hours a week, but the bill claims that with attending three BSG committee meetings and the weekly senate meeting, all of which is required, senators actually put in seven hours a week. Their current stipend only pays them for the three office hours. This model was used consistently throughout the document to argue for all the previously mentioned positions to be put on hourly pay.

In order to remedy this illegality, the bill proposed to change Department Heads/Cabinet Members/Chairs to an hourly pay rate of $11.75 per hour and Student Court/Senate/Parliamentarian to an hourly pay rate of $11.25 per hour. The rates would change with minimum wage changes. The bill also states that the Business Manager, Tyler Brown, would calculate retroactive wages for those switched over beginning from Wednesday, Jan. 22.

The bill also included a few checks to the system. On lines 60-63, the bill states “hourly employees will make every effort to perform their required duties on the clock and within the average ranges of their individual positions, with the understanding there will occasionally be times that exceptions to these averages will arise due to increased workloads.” It also states that the Department Heads, Committee chairs and “any other relevant parties within BSG” would conduct an evaluation at least once a semester to reassess positions and their expectations and hourly requirements.

The bill’s introduction to the senate on February 8 was the “first mention” of the bill. “First mention” means the senate would be voting on whether or not to officially vote on the bill the following week. Once Thrasher-Scutt moved to introduce the piece of legislation, it wasn’t long before discussion began. Activities Coordinator Sam Druzbik was the first to speak and addressed concerns he had with the bill by reading from a pre-written statement.

“Last semester in commenting on this bill I expressed concern about the slippery slope of legislation and the closing lines appear to me to provide a pathway to more frequent pay scale changes,” Druzbik said. “This requirement of assessments and ability to change payments in general further inhibit the process of the proper functioning of the yearly budgetary process.”

Druzbik went on to explain he was worried this could lead to “dramatic” and unnecessary changes in the future.

Treasurer Dawn Footer spoke next. While she was in favor of the basis of the bill, she did not agree with the inclusion of the cabinet members, being herself, President Joshua Mathews and Vice President Kate Demskie.

“The Senators and the justices of BSG are explicitly and implicitly required to work more hours then they’re being paid for, so that does need to be addressed,” Footer said. “However, the executive branch is not. Yet, we are included in this legislation and the first time that we have seen this is this week.”

The first time a majority of BSG members saw the bill was when it was sent along with the Senate Agenda on Wednesday, Feb. 6, two days before the senate meeting. Footer went on to say that the executives were never spoken to or asked for input on their inclusion in the bill. She also raised concern over the pay raise the chairs of committees and the department heads would be receiving. As the rate for these staff members would be $11.75, as opposed to the $11.25 wage a non-committee chair or department head member of senate would be making, these positions would earn supervisory pay. Footer argued that those positions are not necessarily supervisory, but more of a facilitator role.

Activities Director Alexis Graesser asked how the senate thought the students would perceive them voting to raise their own pay, which was later addressed by Student Court Justice Emma Chilson-Cline.

“I think there’s something to be said for students understanding that we’re trying to make the student government as equitable as possible… I think that’s definitely something the students will consider,” Chilson-Cline said.

However, Chilson-Cline did go on to say that after having read the document, she noticed it was “seemingly lacking in some regulations.” She suggested that everyone who would be affected by the bill should discuss it, not just the committee it came from.

Graesser spoke again, specifically arguing against the bill going into effect this semester.

“This is just a recommendation coming from me,” Graesser said. “I believe that there should be a change for the future not, ‘I want a pay raise and I want it now.’ The 27th Amendment of the [United States] Constitution prohibits the increase or decrease of salaries for representatives from taking place until the start of the next term.”

Thrasher-Scutt who has put in the most work on the bill, then got the chance to defend it. She explained that it was okay to work hours off the clock, even with the new legislation, but that it was also not necessary if the BSG member did not want to. She said she had been working very hard on the bill in order to have it done the “right way.”

She also explained that she did have a discussion with Mathews about the bill, rebutting Footer’s previous claim that no executive had been reached out to. According to Thrasher-Scutt, she included the executives in the bill as per the advice of Business Manager Brown.

“[Brown] said that if we don’t switch everybody now we’re just going to have the same issue when a different administration comes in and says, ‘well why aren’t we on hourly pay,’” Thrasher-Scutt said. “So just because the executives now aren’t for it, who’s to say someone in a couple years won’t want it and wonder why everybody is not being treated fairly?”

Senator Thrasher-Scutt also defended the senate’s right to create bills regarding their own wages.

“As far as us voting for our own pay change, we’re legislation,” Thrasher-Scutt said. “Legislation starts with the Senate. Is someone else going to write a pay change for the senators? Is someone else going to write a pay change for the justices? Who else is going to do it? Legislation starts here. It gets voted on here.”

After Thrasher-Scutt, President Mathews spoke. He thanked the senator for her hard work on the bill before suggesting to create an ad hoc committee specifically for the pay equity issue. An ad hoc committee is a short-term committee created to focus on a sole issue and last as long as it takes to solve whatever the problem may be.

Senator Jay Ptaszek West was the last to speak, seconding Mathews’ idea of creating a committee to focus on the issue. West tried to move to send the bill to a new committee, but Vice President and Senate Chairperson Demskie reminded him the committee would need to be created first by a new piece of legislation before a bill could be sent to it.

After Demskie explained all of West’s many options on how to proceed, he decided to introduce a call to question. According to Demskie, a call to question is a “fancy term for ‘let’s vote on it now.’”

The call to question passed and the senators then voted on whether to send the bill forward to the next meeting, where they would actually vote on it, or to stop the bill where it was. The motion to move the bill forward failed with one in favor, four against and six abstentions.

More than likely, BSG will continue to work on this bill, according to Treasurer Footer.

“I definitely think there will be an ad hoc committee where they will actually look over what’s there, because the bare bones… there’s workable content there,” Footer said after the meeting. “Again, if you start off with the intent of making things fairer and more legal with regards to senate and judicial pay, that definitely has to happen.”

Footer reiterated negative opinions on the bill that were made during the meeting, expressing that she didn’t agree with the executives’ inclusion in the bill and the fact it would give a majority of senators a pay raise.

“I think our Senators are very industrious,” Footer said. “They work really hard…[However] they shouldn’t be setting their own, in the current semester, wage rates and they need to be a little bit more conscious of who their legislation impacts.”

Even if a form of the bill goes through in the future, Footer explained that students shouldn’t worry about seeing their BSG mandatory fee increase.

“We are looking at changing around some of the staffing for the future to accommodate increased hours, not the increase of pay they were looking at, just the increase of hours, and changing some of the senators’ duties,” Footer said.

If there is a re-introduction of an edited bill, or the creation of an ad hoc committee to oversee the pay equity problem, it will be voted on during BSG’s weekly senate meeting. The meetings take place every Friday at 4 p.m. in Union room 119.

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