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Letter to the Editor: Bowdoin’s treasurer on housekeeper wages

February 25, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

To the editor,

We have been concerned about misperceptions and incorrect or incomplete information published here, and circulating elsewhere, about Bowdoin’s compensation program for our housekeepers. I want to take the opportunity to set the record straight about our compensation, the importance we place on this issue, and our substantial, ongoing efforts to make sure our housekeepers are compensated appropriately. They are a big part of what makes Bowdoin special.

Recently, some students have voiced concerns about job titles and wages for housekeepers, suggesting that the College intentionally misclassifies housekeepers as “maids and housekeeping cleaners” in order to pay them less than the average of $14.10 per hour earned in Cumberland County by “custodians” (or what the state calls “janitors and cleaners”). These students have asked that we move our wages for housekeepers to the $14.10 average.

Our process for determining compensation doesn’t rely on generic job categories or labels, and we don’t have anything to do with putting employees into state job categories. When we examine wages, we review extensive third-party data, and, for each source, we look for job descriptions that most closely match the specific work our employees do. A comparison of compensation for employees in various roles across institutions is based on their actual job responsibilities and duties and the total compensation—wages and benefits—they receive.

Workers classified by the Maine Department of Labor as “maids and housekeepers” earn, on average, $11.28 an hour in Cumberland County. While there are tasks performed by many Bowdoin housekeepers that fall within the state’s category for “janitors and cleaners,” there are also tasks within Maine’s “janitor and cleaners” definition that are not at all part of our housekeeper’s duties. The point is that neither of the generic categories used by the state accurately reflects the scope of our housekeepers’ responsibilities. And we are keenly aware that, because our employees often go the extra mile, there are occasions when they do something beyond the tasks listed in their job descriptions.

Today, Bowdoin housekeepers, on average, earn $13.97 an hour (and this is before shift differentials). Earlier in January, I met with our housekeeping staff and other hourly workers and announced that, effective July 1, there will be a so-called “compression raise” to keep hourly pay for seasoned employees appropriately above starting rates for new hires. The Orient was made aware of this announcement before their most recent article was published, but chose not to report on it. As a result of these wage adjustments and the regular July 1 salary pool increases, the average housekeeper will earn an estimated $14.95 per hour.

In addition to these hourly wages, the College provides a benefits package that is equaled by few, if any, other Maine employers. It includes competitive health, dental, and vision plans for employees and their families, fully vested retirement contributions, disability and life insurance, tuition assistance for employees, scholarships for dependents, multiple paid holidays and paid vacation, paid sick leave, emergency paid sick leave, and more.

These are the facts. We strive to compensate our housekeepers and other hourly employees appropriately with wages and benefits that reflect their outstanding contributions to the College. As we have always done, we will continue to regularly review and adjust our compensation program to ensure that it remains among the very best in Maine.


Matt Orlando
Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration & Treasurer


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  1. frustrated community member says:

    Good that the College is thinking seriously about wage compression… but what about all the workers who will be starting next year and cleaning these multi-million dollar new buildings for 12.50$/ hour? ?? Starting wages should go up for everyone. People should be rewarded for time spent working here, but ALL members of the Bowdoin community should be compensated fairly — it’s just right.

    Also… so what’s up with the label of Housekeeper?? it just feels good to gender your workers? and go against Maine DOL?

    • Just the Facts says:

      How does “Housekeeper” gender an employee any more than “janitor” or “custodian”?

    • '20 says:

      It’s less about the gendered title (which implies women, even in professional roles like those at Bowdoin, are relegated to housework), and more about the massive pay discrepancy that still exists between work associated with women and that with men. Women earn 80 cents on the male dollar, and a large reason for that is professions that are considered feminine are devalued, in terms of respect AND compensation (SEE: Teaching, nursing, childcare, etc.)

  2. A frustrated community member says:

    NYC, Seattle, Washington DC, and LA all plan to have a 15$ minimum wage by 2020. Why isn’t Bowdoin keeping up with the most progressive cities in America? An average wage is VERY DIFFERENT than a minimum wage. Bowdoin preaches the common good but lags behind in terms of real economic justice. We should take care of all members of our community.

    • Just the Facts says:

      But that is a larger battle beyond Bowdoin. There is a difference between the cost of living in one of these cities and the cost of living in Brunswick, ME (a significant difference). Maybe the minimum wage should be $15/hr in Brunswick, but then it must be significantly higher in these cities.

  3. Class '21 says:

    a) It’s misleading to compare Bowdoin’s current “average wage” of $13.97 with the proposed minimum wage of $14.10 – average wage and minimum wage are two separate issues. Just the Facts: Bowdoin housekeepers make a minimum wage of $12.50, which is $1.20 less than the minimum wage for custodians. This adds up to an annual difference of $2,496 for a full-time employee working 40 hours/week, which would benefit workers immensely while costing Bowdoin comparatively little. Also, since Bowdoin is committed to going above and beyond the minimum, the College should aim above $14.10 as a starting wage.

    b) Peer institutions, such as Colby and Bates, classify their workers as custodians and pay them accordingly. Your response that Bowdoin “doesn’t rely on generic job categories or labels” is an excuse to duck the issue, which is that Bowdoin is labeling custodial staff as “housekeepers” (a title most common in hotels) rather than custodians (a title most common in educational institutions). Bowdoin needs to address its country club environment, as pointed out in the recent Maine Beacon article.

  4. BigPetey says:

    Seems like a reasonable explanation to me. After all, its a free market, if the Housekeepers are unhappy, they can certainly go elsewhere. Unemployment is pretty low, I see a lot of “Help Wanted” signs around. I made a job change in 2012, for that very reason – to increase my income. Never looked back. Really not sure where someone gets any gender designation from “housekeeper” seems pretty gender neutral to me.

    • James A Pierce, Bowdoin 1969 says:

      That “free market” justification you spout is a canard employed by those who wish to keep wages low. Let Matt Orlando, Clayton Rose and all the other six-figure suits live on what they deem an adequate wage for the housekeeping staff and see how quickly they come around.

  5. Class of '00 says:

    Totally disingenuous letter from Mr. Orlando. The suits can tap dance around the issue all they want, parse the meaning of housekeeper vs. janitor, site average wage vs. starting wage (as if nobody realizes you can twist stats to support your own position), and continue to refer to Bowdoins “generous” compensation package as if a future scholarship for your 3-year old and use of the gym are going to put food on the table today. And employee tuition assistance – that must be for the classes an employee doesn’t have time to take because they are working a second job trying to make ends meet b/c their Bowdoin job pays so miserably. We all see through the charade Mr. Orlando. You and the other well paid suits mine as well say “let them eat cake” as you scarf down your filet mignon and Dom Perignon in your cozy ivory towers. Bowdoin talks a good game about the “common good” but when it comes to taking care of their own, the college is as hypocritical as it gets.

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