Instructors at Minnesota’s two-year public colleges filed $1.6 million worth of claims for lost wages as part of a settlement reached in May with the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities. The process is the culmination of Minnesota State College Faculty (MSCF) union’s  9-year odyssey investigating systemic wage theft.

Matt Williams, President of MSCF explained that, “the employer was caught calculating work in a way that allowed them to pay people less than what they were really owed.”  

According to Williams, the university system is in the process of recalculating fiscal year 2018-19 which would be in addition to the $1.6 million worth of claims. 

“We know so far from preliminary numbers that it’s going to be about another $500,000, which the total amount of dollars coming out because of our actions and because of our resolve to hold the employer to the terms of the contract will easily exceed $2 million.” 

Since the settlement was announced, staff and officers of the union met with 710 faculty members to review the instructors’ work and pay records. Of that group, 252 members filed documented claims for lost wages worth $1,563,026.

For some this settlement amounts to a life-changing amount of money. According to the union’s figures, there were 23 claims for $15,000 or more. The average claim was about $6,200.

Shawn Stoermann is an instructor and active-duty EMS supervisor. The recovery of his lost wages is helping Stoermann and his wife cover the cost of the special circumstances of their adoption. “The back pay that I’ve been receiving is actually going to be able to cover most of the additional legal costs.” Stoermann was surprised that the back pay issues were going to affect him since he is a temporary part-time employee. “I did not anticipate at all the magnitude of what it was.”

The underlying wage dispute involved how the college system calculated the pay for faculty members with certain job assignments, such as teaching in flex labs, independent studies and internships, or instructors who performed duties as department chairs and in similar jobs. 

At two-year institutions, faculty get paid by credit or contact hours, apparently leaving a lot of room for variance. Faculty at two-year colleges talk about their schedule in consultation and collaboration with their supervisors, the Deans of their department. 

As Williams described,  “at the end of the day, part of the inherent managerial rights of the administration is to decide the assignment and so you get this situation where deans could, in theory, create schedules for faculty whereby some of the work that faculty would do, would never get paid but then other people would do the exact same amount of work and get paid different amounts.” 

The union began filing grievances for the pay calculations in 2010, asserting that Minnesota State was not following the contract the two sides had negotiated together. In 2016, the union took the grievances to binding arbitration. The arbitrator ruled in favor of  the union. In 2016 after the arbitrator ruled in their favor, the system office agreed to agreed to backpay from 2010 to 2016, but refused to change the system. After two more years,the university finally agreed to change the way workload was calculated and also extended the payouts to recover back pay for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years. Further recalculations for the 2018-19 academic year are being conducted. 

An inquiry sent via email to the office of communications for the university system about the back pay settlement resulted in a response attributed to Eric Davis, Vice Chancellor of Human Resources stated that, 

“We will be reviewing the claims submitted under this agreement over the coming weeks, and we look forward to resolving  this longstanding issue with the faculty union at our state colleges and continuing our focus on the success of our students.”

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