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UCF’s prestige is growing, but some university employees are rewarded more richly than others

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Correction: The original version of this story contained some inaccurate figures, which have been corrected in the version below.

It’s been a momentous year for the University of Central Florida. In May, the university’s new medical school saw an elite first crop of students complete its freshman year. In August, the university opened a $25 million performing arts center on its campus in East Orlando. In November, the university’s football team made its way into the nation’s top 25, cheered on by an undergraduate freshman class with higher test scores than any that came before it.

Despite the university’s rapidly rising star, a hiring freeze, now in its fourth year, has UCF employees across all departments taking on more responsibilities with fewer coworkers to ease the load. Large bonuses for university executives, on the heels of deep program cuts, have frayed already tense relations between staff and administrators. And even after planned salary increases, many of the university’s blue-collar workers will continue to be underpaid – a notion recently 
confirmed by UCF’s own study.

On Dec. 6, the university reached an agreement with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – a union that represents a variety of lower-
salaried workers, ranging from custodians to office managers – on a new three-year contract. As part of the deal, the university agreed to give the eligible workers in AFSCME’s bargaining unit a 2 percent raise, which comes on top of a 1 percent raise and a one-time $1,500 bonus in August for all eligible UCF employees.

In giving the raises, however, UCF revealed that many of its lowest-paid workers make less than the local average for their occupations. During negotiations with AFSCME, UCF drew on an internal study of non-faculty positions within the university with base salaries of less than $35,000 per year. Comparing the salaries to those of similar positions in Central Florida, the study found that nearly 200 mid-level employees work at positions with base salaries at least 10 percent lower than “market minimum” salaries. For example, the study says, the market minimum salary for an office manager in the area is $31,192. The university’s 81 office managers, however, start off with 16.6 percent less, at a base salary 
of $26,744.

To atone for such discrepancies, the university is giving the largest raises to those furthest behind: a 3.5 percent salary increase for those at positions with base salaries 10-15 percent lower than the market minimum, 4.5 percent for those at jobs starting with 15-30 percent less, and 5.75 percent for a handful of workers dipping below the 30 percent mark. Though they will meet the new “UCF minimums,” the starting salaries of these positions will still remain below market minimums for the area.

The workers’ union, without much leverage at its disposal (only 4 percent of 1,180 eligible employees pay dues), is taking what it can get. “It’s not a lot, but it’s a step in the right direction,” says Doug Watkins, president of UCF’s AFSCME Local 3345.

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