Transform Mills into a Pro-Worker Institution: A Call to the Board of Trustees
Representatives from the Mills Staff Union address the Board of Trustees to call for transparency and action to support Mills students and workforce.
On April 22nd, the Mills College Board of Trustees held a listening session, inviting members of the Mills community to speak to their concerns regarding the Board’s March 17th announcement that they intended to close the College by 2023. Citing operating deficits, College executives say they intend to transition Mills from a degree-granting college to an as-yet undefined “Mills Institute.” They have declined to provide the financial details that have precipitated this decision. Nor have they provided any of the planning documents for the proposed institute or other prospective partnerships to the Mills community despite both formal and informal requests to do so, including requests from the College’s alumnae association, alum organizers, and this union.
During a special listening session of the Board, representatives from the Mills community, including faculty, staff, alums, and students were each given three minutes to speak before the Trustees. The Board did not take any questions from the community. What follows are remarks delivered by representatives from the Mills Staff Union.
Members of the Board,
Thank you for creating this space to hear the concerns of the people of Mills. We hope this listening session will be the beginning of an ongoing conversation with the Mills community. Like most of those who live, learn, and work at Mills, we were blindsided and devastated by the announcement that this Board has decided to dismantle Mills College by 2023. We want to use this opportunity to share the real and immediate concerns of those whose futures and livelihoods your decisions govern.
This union is a founding member of the Save Mills College Coalition; we join allied students, faculty, and alums in calling on this Board to reverse its decision to close Mills and to explore alternative pathways to sustain the College for future generations in a collaborative and transparent process.
Regardless of whether or not the Board can be persuaded to save Mills as a degree-granting institution, we are calling on Trustees to steward a just transition to whatever comes next for Mills.
What do we mean by a just transition?
A just transition prioritizes the wellbeing of everyone at Mills. It starts by honoring the obligation to deliver a quality education to Mills students. That means supporting the workforce that keeps this College running, both faculty and staff. Any transition that does not put the people of Mills first will constitute a betrayal of the College’s mission to promote equity and justice and to challenge those inequalities that arise from “differential distribution of power, resources, and privilege at Mills and in the larger society.”
Mills staff are deeply invested in this mission. Surveys conducted by the Mills Staff Union and Staff Council show that Mills workers generally feel valued by their departments and colleagues and enjoy the campus culture. Staff repeatedly cite the inclusive and diverse community, fantastic colleagues and students, and strongly held values as reasons they work at Mills.
Despite this, when asked if they felt valued by the College the responses were overwhelmingly tepid: Only 6.1% said whole-heartedly “yes.”
Why do staff feel undervalued?
For years the budget of this school has been balanced on the backs of Mills workers. Over a decade of austerity measures have led to understaffing and stagnant wages for Mills workers broadly and for our union members in particular — 66% of whom are the primary or sole breadwinners in their households; 83% of whom rely on Mills for their healthcare and that of their families; 100% of whom lost retirement matching at the beginning of the pandemic; and most of whom have never received so much as a cost of living raise in all their time at Mills.
Many staff are unsure if they will remain at Mills following the March 17th announcement. Mills workers are deeply concerned about job security and what comes next, particularly if staffing levels decline and already understaffed departments are left to manage that loss. College leadership has an obligation to provide a clear roadmap for workers and provide incentives that foster retention, support staff, and in turn stabilize Mills.
The President’s Office has repeatedly acknowledged this responsibility and made public commitments to support Mills students and the Mills workforce. What this support will entail for any of those constituencies remains unclear.
Earlier this week President Hillman said in an interview with KALW:
Mills has really underinvested in the people who make the College what it is, our faculty and our staff, for a long time […] We have a gap between how we’re valuing people in terms of what we’re paying them and what they really ought to get to support our students in all the amazing ways they do.
We agree with President Hillman. It is our goal to work with those at Mills who have decision-making power — including the President’s Office, HR, and this Board — to make good on those promises to support the Mills community.
We seek concrete policies that reflect the College’s public-facing statements.
The Mills Staff Union is in contract negotiations right now. Staff Council has been given verbal assurances that the protections that we negotiate on behalf of our union membership will apply to non-union eligible staff at Mills as well. We need the Board and executives of Mills to empower HR to work with the union to invest in Mills workers and to transform Mills into a pro-worker institution.
How can Mills support and retain staff?
Mills Staff Council and the union recently conducted a survey of all Mills staff to assess their needs moving forward. According to that data, there are three urgent priorities that our workforce wants to see action around:
- Immediate and recurring pay increases for Mills workers. This is an opportunity to show Mills workers how their talents, time, and labor are valued. Moreover, we are calling for recurring increases in pay to continue through any transition to incentivize staff to remain at Mills so that operations remain stable.
- The retention of the current Mills workforce at Mills now and at Mills into the future, at a prospective Mills Institute, and in any future partnership or acquisition of the College. HR and anyone involved in conversations with potential partners has the power to ensure staff retention at Mills and to negotiate that retention of the Mills workforce be a condition of any future institute or other partnership.
- Ample advance notice in the event of layoffs and generous severance packages. The College has announced a two-year teach-out timeline, and should they pursue it, they must have a plan for staffing needs over that period. Mills workers want that timeline communicated well in advance of any position reductions. In the event of job termination, we are calling on the College for generous, reparative severance packages.
We have worked hard for the Mills mission in the face of pay cuts, workload increases, unpaid furloughs, deferred COLAs, and cuts to our retirement match. We accepted these cuts because we were told that austerity measures were necessary to protect the College’s future.
The top-down approach to running Mills has imperiled that future. The prevailing culture of secrecy and austerity does not serve this community, and it never has. Mills workers are not interested in closing the College, but we are interested in fighting for a better, more sustainable one. We ask that this Board ally with Mills community members and use its considerable leverage to take care of the people at Mills now and into the future.
When we work as a collective, we believe we can overcome our shared challenges.