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The Valley News Rises (Blindly) to Defend the Retiree Death Benefit

VN Logo.gifHeart in hand as always, the Editorial Board of the Valley News rose to defend the downtrodden retirees of the College who have newly lost their $5,000 death benefit. Sadly, but too predictably, the Editors’ eleemosynary reflex is not backed up by any economic research. The Board’s first concern is one of expectation: that retirees have been led to rely on this benefit. But a contract argument does not work for me; all agreements between Dartmouth and its employees contain an explicit clause saying that benefits can be changed at any time by the College — as the VN itself noted in a previous article on this subject.

Of greater interest in the editorial is the VN’s evocation of the College’s “stated intention of shielding lower paid employees from the impact of budget cuts as much as possible.” I guess that the VN staffers feel the pain of the supposed poor.

But before we all join in a group hug, let’s actually look at these lower paid employees. How much money do they actually make compared to other workers in the local labor market?

Currently the College is advertising an opening for a Cook Helper. This union position is a Job Grade A category posting, meaning that after a year it will pay $15.82/hour ($33,905/year). In addition, Dartmouth will contribute an additional 10% of that amount into the worker’s pension fund. The College offers full health insurance for the worker’s entire family for only a modest contribution. And the worker, after being on staff for one year, will receive 15 days of paid vacation, 11 days of paid personal leave, and four days of break between Xmas and New Year’s (that’s a total of 30 days of paid time off: six weeks).

Not bad. Not bad at all. Keep in mind that this is a Job Grade A hire — the lowest paid union position at the College.

Now let’s look at what a Cook Helper might make at a local restaurant. A quick canvas of several local eateries reveals that employees with similar responsibilities would be paid only $10-13/hour ($20,800-$27,040/year); after 6-12 months on the job they would receive about a 50% contribution to their personal health insurance (and nothing for their families); they would get absolutely no pension contribution; and after their first year of employment they would earn 7-10 vacation days (one and a half to two weeks).

And most definitely, they would not get a retiree death benefit — which, as we have previously seen, is something that only DHMC and Dartmouth offer(ed) among all of the private employers in the Upper Valley.

Conclusion: If the Editors of the Valley News want to climb onto their high horse and ride out to defend the poor, the last place that they should start is with the employees of Dartmouth College — the Kings and Queens of the local labor force, whose overall compensation is at least twice what an equivalent worker in the private sector earns.

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