Is there any point in bringing up being underpaid in today's tough budgetary and economic climate?
March 31, 2010 4:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm work at a California university, and I'm seriously underpaid. Is there any point in bringing this up in today's tough budgetary and economic climate?

I'm a web developer at one of the University of California campuses, and I've been here for three years. I transferred from a different UC campus, where I worked for five years. I've been doing web work since 1995 and middleware/database-driven web application development for over eight years.

My salary's 77K, and I'm currently making 72K because of a university-wide salary reduction and furlough. I recently discovered that the average salary for my position is 94,700, so my regular salary's about 18% below average. I have more considerably more experience than average and my skills are also well above average. (I initially started with the University of California at a temporary employee, so my initial starting salary then was low based on that. I've never had a raise and the only increase was when I moved up a grade when I switched campuses.)

Is there any point in bringing this up with my boss? We supposedly have a process for salary equity increases, but the university is also looking at massive budget cuts and probable layoffs in the next fiscal year. If I do bring it up, how do I not sound like a whiner? If they can't or won't change the salary, can I ask for more time off or to work from home one day a week, etc.?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total)
The best way to prove your worth to your current employer is to get a better offer.
posted by mpls2 at 4:53 PM on March 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

Any chance you can find a job with a private company? The University of California is going to be under budget pressures for years.
posted by dfriedman at 4:55 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

A couple of ways I would go about this:

Make sure you understand what the salary band is for your grade and that you understand what the measurements are for you. I would talk to your supervisor and make sure they know you are looking for a raise to bring you inline with the work your are doing and performance within your salary band/grade.

If you ask for a raise and are denied ask your supervisor to clearly articulate in writing what performance is needed out of you to make it to the next level and document that performance consistently.

You can go outside of the organization to get another offer, but don't do it in a retaliatory fashion and only do it if you are serious about taking the offer you would share with your current employer.

As hard as it may be, you cannot get emotional about this. Salaries and banding structures are one of the things that you need to deal with over the course of your professional life, and generally speaking raises are out of your immediate supervisors hands, they generally have to go up 2-3 levels for approval and the more evidence you can gather in terms of your work performance and expectations for measurement on that performance, the better.
posted by iamabot at 5:01 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Average salary" for your position overall, or within nonprofits? Especially in a time of budget crunches, you're unlikely to see salaries in a nonprofit setting get close to what the private sector can offer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:03 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have friends who work in the UC system. I'm surprised there's still enough money to employ you at that salary. I'd suggest you look for private sector work now, before the next round of cuts.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:05 PM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Mention it as the reason why you're leaving during your job interviews.
posted by GuyZero at 5:13 PM on March 31, 2010

How did come across these findings? If you did it online, a lot of these websites seem to really be pushing it. I've never found a job in my area earn more than x amount, but these are saying that someone below my capabilities should be making upwards of 3x. It may be as simple as taking these results with a grain of salt.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:31 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I doubt you'd be able to get UC to pay you more due to all of the budge cuts and the tuition hike...
posted by majikstreet at 5:52 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. advise:

"Them that's got shall get
Them that's not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Yes, the strong gets more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don't ever make the grade
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own ..."

However, in the UC system, with all its current and likely future budget woes, you'd have to be not just a superstar, but a charter member of a protected class, with huge political pull, real evidence of discrimination, and compromising photos of all the regents to even think that your salary issues might be satisfactorily addressed in the next 5 years.

If you're not that patient, start looking for another gig. But don't just fold your cards; pay is an important determinant not only of the kind of life outside of work that you can afford, but of the professional respect that you'll be accorded, over the course of your career.

It sounds like you haven't been a great advocate for yourself in the past, and are now, at a tough time in your current situation, becoming aware of that. Hang on to the awareness, and maneuver, determinedly, to where it can do you some good.
posted by paulsc at 6:03 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

The only person I know who was able to negotiate a raise in a similar budget situation here in Illinois had another job offer that she was quite prepared to take. Because she was important enough to her department, she was able to negotiate not only a raise, but a partner hire for her long-distance significant other who was moving to join her. Absent a competing job offer, I'm not sure what would motivate your department to raise your salary in this climate.
posted by MsMolly at 6:06 PM on March 31, 2010

University systems nationwide (US based) are under a great deal of budgetary pressure with the next two years looking real grim with no Federal stimulus money cushioning any blows.

To give you some perspective, there are revenue generating faculty leaving the university system not just about salary cuts but also the declining futures of some campuses that will take years to recover and the freaking high cost of living in places like Berkeley so really have a plan.

iambot and mpls2 are spot on about getting another offer on the table and preparing to go about getting an upgrade. Also start thinking about how seniority works in your area, can you get "bumped" by another senior developer? If so, then you really need to get a back up plan.

One of the trade offs of working at the "state" is job security and insurance over a higher salary and a more stressful arena of production so, be unemotional and weigh advantages and disadvantages of your present position and try to see what is really on the market at this time. Take a look at the skill sets and resumes of people successfully landing positions and ruthlessly weigh yours against theirs. Don't make major decisions on generic salary speculations but what your particular market will bear.

Good luck.
posted by jadepearl at 6:09 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Specifically with regards to the UC system, I went to visit a venerable and beloved professor at a UC school, who is a laser-sharp, revolutionary teacher and a world historical figure outside of his academic concentration. UC lured him from his old job several years ago by showering him with money and freedom. I was going to take the train, and worried I'd be late, so I asked him if I could call his office phone in case of delays. He said, ah, call my cell!

I asked when I got there, having a vague inkling. The UC system repo'd his phone, and all office phones except for the ones in departmental offices.

My advice is: take all the excellent advice above, wait three months, and see what the situation is like then. In many departments (and yours may be an exception), the ability to identify unhappy workers is going to make the next, punishing round of layoffs a little bit easier on managers. Do not walk into your manager's office with news of a competing offer that you are not prepared to use (on the other hand, this might be a good time to think about not being in the UC system).

On the other hand, I think working from home and furloughs and such are going to start looking better and better to management, and you may have some space there to improve your situation.
posted by Valet at 7:12 PM on March 31, 2010

You're typically limited to the following choices in academia to get a significant raise:

Title change
Competing job offer

I've had both at the same time, still didn't get a raise, and took the competing offer. Given the current economy, that's what you'd have to do.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:21 PM on March 31, 2010

Consider your low salary job security. You'll be the last one let go.
posted by salvia at 7:56 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm also a UC employee and these are not good times, financially. My dept didn't have any raises last year so I'm not surprised if yours didn't either. I would at least wait until the next fiscal year because not a whole lot is going to change before then. At your review, mention your concerns about your salary. Perhaps you can get reclassified, too. Find out what the title/salary range is for rest of the staff (it's fairly easy since everyone has an official position title that corresponds to a salary range) in your department and ask how you can work towards becoming one of them.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:58 PM on March 31, 2010

As a former (more or less) employee for the University of California, let me strongly encourage you to think at least twice about this. It's not the best time to be asking for a raise at ALL. I'm not sure how much you've peeked your head out of your cube (it's more than fine if you haven't!), but the UC budget situation is pretty dire and entire departments are at risk, as illustrated by previous answers. At UCLA, where I was, the problem was compounded by the fact that the campus was already in debt to the system (don't ask; I don't remember the details and they were somewhat byzantine anyway) and thus was making cuts while their budget was already in the red. You need to figure out if your campus is in a similar situation (I guarantee you that no matter campus it is, they're hurting and the only question is degree).

I would not expect it to get better any time in the next three years, what with the way budget cycles are negotiated and the continuing trend in higher ed towards less and less state funding. The UCs can, and I'm sure are, negotiating for more federal funding (through research and grants, not random higher ed funding), but there's just not enough money right now.

I would heartily suggest negotiating for the non-tangibles, like more vacation time (if possible, this can be set by union contract) or a better title or a review in six months with potential for raise then (frankly, with the fiscal year starting 1 July but a budget based on last year's apocalyptic cuts, I wouldn't expect things to move even in six months). If you can manage based on your current salary and don't want to job hunt, stick with it. If you can't make it on your current salary, I would think you're just going to have to job hunt. UC is not likely to be in a position to give you a raise.

With the UCs, keep in mind that you are a cog in the wheel, and a lot of your compensation is not negotiated between you and your boss but between you and employees like you and probably a union, and the UCs.

One more thing: if you'd like actual UC employee compensation data, you know that's available to you, right? There's a cd-rom (at UCLA, it was available through the library) of UC employee compensation data that's current; I don't know if it would contain your position (it should), but you're certainly allowed to check it. You can also check out the SacBee's data covering the same thing.
posted by librarylis at 8:21 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also bear in mind that your benefits package is likely a lot better than small companies could hope to offer. Are you part of CalPERS?
posted by lalochezia at 8:45 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another former UC employee here. Is your job title represented by a union? If so, talk to people in your local about your situation. They should be able to tell you how things are going for others in your situation at your campus. Even in the best of times, how these things are handled varies widely from campus to campus and even between departments on the same campus.

But yeah, gut feeling: get a competing offer, and be 110% prepared to take it. It's likely that your boss's hands are tied right now when it comes to increasing salary, even if the cost is losing a valuable employee.

on preview: lalochezia, you're right that benefits for UC employees have been better historically than for employees of small companies, but that's changing as UC management focuses on "Total Compensation". That's widely perceived as code for "cut benefits now, raise salaries never".
posted by harkin banks at 8:48 PM on March 31, 2010

Follow-up from the OP
The average salary is what's posted on the web site of the university's HR department and is for my specific university and is also available on the local newspaper's web site. I'm not represented by a union.

Before I found out about the salary discrepancy I was already unhappy about my job for non-monetary reasons, and I've been looking for a private-sector job, but there aren't that many.

I appreciate the advice to be dispassionate, but it's difficult when UC pays executives six-figure salaries and bonuses bigger than my salary at the same time they're laying people off and cutting the survivors' pay.
posted by jessamyn at 8:44 AM on April 1, 2010

« Older Rock is Dead, Long Live Rock   |   Changing my mind--too late? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.