Compensation for Bowdoin's Housekeeping Staff FAQ

The information on this page is provided to explain how Bowdoin compensates its housekeeping staff and to provide accurate information on the matter in response to questions that have been raised.

Bowdoin’s hourly employees, including our housekeepers, are indispensable to the College, and we are deeply grateful for the work they do. They deserve leading wages and benefits for their work, which is what we are committed to providing. We review our compensation program on a regular basis and make adjustments when warranted. As a result, there is low turnover in these positions and long tenure by our housekeeping and other hourly colleagues.

1. What is Bowdoin’s approach for compensating its hourly employees?

The College is committed to being the employer of choice in midcoast Maine and a leading employer in the state. To consistently achieve these goals, the College provides hourly wages and a benefits program that are each among the very best in the state. The program is reviewed on a regular basis and adjusted to maintain Bowdoin’s leadership position.

2. How many hourly employees does Bowdoin currently have?

Approximately 400 benefits-eligible hourly employees (those who work at least twenty hours per week) currently work at Bowdoin.

3. How many housekeepers does Bowdoin currently employ?

As of September 1, 2019, fifty-four housekeepers were employed full time.

4. What is the current minimum wage in Maine?

As of January 1, 2019, the current minimum wage in Maine is $11.00 an hour.

5. How much are Bowdoin housekeepers paid?

As of September 1, 2019:

  • the average pay for Bowdoin housekeepers is $15.11 an hour;
  • the lowest rate for existing housekeepers is $13.35 an hour; and
  • for the 96 percent of housekeepers who receive shift-differential pay for working early mornings, nights, and/or weekends, the average hourly rate is $15.71 an hour.

On October 21, 2019, the College announced plans to increase the minimum wage for benefits-eligible hourly employees to $14.00 an hour on July 1, 2020; to $15.50 an hour on July 1, 2021, and to $17.00 an hour on July 1, 2022.

6. Does the College provide benefits to all hourly employees? What is the value of these benefits?

All hourly employees who regularly work at least twenty hours per week receive benefits. The value of these benefits is approximately $19,000 a year per hourly employee, or more than $9.00 an hour. This excludes dependent scholarships.

7. What benefits are provided by the College?

  • retirement contributions by the College per pay period of 10.12 percent or 12.13 percent of wages (depending on the age of the employee) that do not require a match or any additional contribution by the employee (these funds are fully vested immediately, and employees are eligible for retirement benefits after one year of service);
  • an option to participate immediately upon being hired in one of three competitive health plans, with employee contributions based on income;
  • a dental plan and vision plan;
  • disability and life insurance paid by the College;
  • twelve paid holidays, plus paid time off for the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day;
  • two weeks of paid vacation that accrue in an employee’s first year and three weeks paid vacation that accrue beginning in year two;
  • twelve days of paid sick leave per year that can accrue up to sixty-five days; and
  • emergency paid sick leave for employees with a serious health condition who have exhausted their personal sick time.

8. How many hourly staff take advantage of one of Bowdoin’s three health plans?

Nearly 90 percent of all hourly employees are on one of Bowdoin’s three health plans, including 88 percent of the housekeeping staff. This participation is the same as the rate for all other Bowdoin employees.

9. How does the College respond to the argument that hourly staff should not be expected to meet an annual deductible of $5,200?

This is an example of partial and misleading information that has circulated on this issue. Bowdoin offers three different health plans for employees. The annual deductibles are:

  • $750 per individual and $1,500 per family in the Preferred Provider Plan (PPO);
  • $1,500 per individual and $3,000 per family in one high-deductible (HD) plan;
  • and $2,700 per individual and $5,200 per family for employees in a second HD plan.

The two HD plans have lower monthly premiums that are subsidized by the College, based on income. They also come with health savings accounts (HSAs) funded in part with annual cash payments by the College of $750 or $1,300 per individual and $1,500 or $2,500 per family (depending on the HD plan) that effectively cut the deductibles in half.

10. How many housekeepers are enrolled in a Bowdoin health plan? Which health plan do most of Bowdoin’s housekeepers choose?

Fifty of Bowdoin’s fifty-seven housekeepers are enrolled in one of the three College health plans. Of these fifty, forty-one (82 percent) are enrolled in the PPO with College-subsidized premiums and the lowest deductibles. The remaining nine housekeepers are enrolled in one of the two HD plans that also come with premiums subsidized by the College plus HSAs funded in part with annual cash payments by the College (see above).

11. What is Bowdoin’s average annual voluntary turnover rate for hourly staff?

Employment at Bowdoin is highly sought after in the tightest labor market in more than forty years. Bowdoin’s voluntary turnover rate is only 7 percent, versus a national average of 16 percent. In addition, it takes only sixty days to fill an open position, from the day a job is posted to the start date of a new employee. Our hourly staff and housekeepers stay at Bowdoin for a long time, with an average tenure of eleven years for all hourly employees and nine years for housekeepers.

12. How does the College respond to critics who demand that Bowdoin establish a $15.00 minimum wage?

Bowdoin provides hourly wages that are among the very best in the state and a benefits program that is best-in-class in Maine. At various times over the last year, some have demanded that the College pay hourly employees a “Living Wage,” a “livable wage,” and a “fair wage”; that we move our average wage for housekeepers to $14.10 an hour; and then, most recently, that we pay a starting wage of $15.00 an hour for all employees. While it is unclear where $15.00 an hour comes from, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle have recently established minimum wage rates of $15.00 an hour. These cities each have a substantially higher cost of living than Brunswick, Maine. An annual income of $30,000 in Brunswick would need to increase to over $54,000 in Seattle, over $56,000 in New York City, and over $81,000 in San Francisco to maintain the same standard of living (Source: Best Places Cost of Living Calculator) Most recently, Connecticut approved a bill that will eventually (by 2023) raise the state’s minimum wage to $15.00.

13. How does Bowdoin establish compensation?

We examine a range of information, including wage data for similar jobs at employers across southern and midcoast Maine and benefits data from businesses, hospitals, and other private educational institutions in Maine, including a number of other leading Maine organizations that employ staff in facilities, dining, and housekeeping. 

14. Why does the College choose to compare itself to other organizations, instead of just doing what’s right for Bowdoin?

We do both. Our goal has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that Bowdoin’s hourly employees are compensated in a way that reflects all that they do for the College and that sets Bowdoin apart among Maine employers.

15. How does the College respond to a claim that it is paying just a little bit more per hour than a local fast-food chain restaurant that offers a starting wage of $12.50 an hour?

The particular restaurant cited by critics advertises that employees can make “up to” $12.50 an hour, suggesting a variety of wages for different jobs that will range from $11.00 (state minimum) to $12.50. Bowdoin’s current minimum wage for new employees is above this ($12.65), and all of Bowdoin’s continuing 400 staff earn at least $13.35 an hour.

On October 21, 2019, the College announced plans to increase the minimum wage for benefits-eligible hourly employees to $14.00 an hour on July 1, 2020; to $15.50 an hour on July 1, 2021, and to $17.00 an hour on July 1, 2022.

16. How does the College respond to reports that the starting wage for a custodian at Brunswick High School is higher than what Bowdoin housekeepers earn?

These are substantially different jobs. According to the published Brunswick School Department job description, Brunswick High School custodians maintain sidewalks, driveways, and play areas (including snow removal); climb ladders; replace lighting; regulate HVAC systems; inspect sprinkler systems, fuel tanks, and boilers; maintain building exteriors and make building repairs; and open and close the school building; among other duties. At Bowdoin, these are functions performed by College employees who work in grounds, mechanical services, the carpentry shop, the electrical shop, and safety and security, and other areas.

17. How does Bowdoin respond to arguments that it does not pay a “Living Wage”?

Bowdoin and virtually all employers follow an “equal pay for equal work” philosophy for compensation, rather than a “Living Wage” program that is structured to pay different wages for the same job based on at least thirteen different personal circumstance categories (e.g., one adult; one adult with one child; one adult with two children; one adult with three children; two adults with one working; two adults with two working; and so on).

Bowdoin’s compensation program is designed precisely to make sure Bowdoin’s hourly staff are among the best paid in the state and that they have insurance, retirement, and other benefits that are often missing at other employers. Our annual reviews of compensation and benefits are designed to keep it this way.

18. Bowdoin’s endowment is more than $1.7 billion. Why can’t the College use some of that money to pay more to its hourly staff?

The strength of Bowdoin’s endowment has nothing to do with compensation for our employees. They come first in the budgeting process, not last. Even with a much smaller endowment, Bowdoin would provide compensation for our hourly employees reflecting the amazing work they do for the College and our commitment to provide wages and benefits that are among the very best in the state.

Bowdoin’s endowment consists of more than 1,700 individual funds earmarked for the perpetual support of a variety of College initiatives. Forty-six (46) percent of the endowment is restricted by donors to the support of student financial aid. Other distributions restricted by donors are used to support professorships and instruction, lectureships, museums, the library and book purchases, and technology. The endowment and annual gifts are also what permit the College to cover the gap between what it actually costs to educate a single student (nearly $98,000) and our comprehensive fee, which is $71,710.

19. How does the College respond to charges that it intentionally mislabels or mis-categorizes its housekeepers in order to hold down their wages?

This is another false claim. There are dozens of generic titles and employment classifications used by schools and other organizations in Maine to reflect jobs with cleaning, janitorial, custodial, housekeeping, grounds keeping, and other maintenance-related responsibilities. However, we don’t use generic job categories to determine wages. Instead, we use multiple surveys, including extensive third-party data, and for each source we look for job classifications and job descriptions that most closely match the specific work our employees do. Any fair comparison of compensation for employees with these varied titles should be based on their actual job responsibilities and duties, and the total compensation—wages and benefits—they receive. That’s the kind of analysis we do.

20. What opportunity do Bowdoin hourly employees have to air grievances or to report unsafe or poor working conditions?

Staff members are encouraged to address concerns with their supervisors through ongoing dialogue, but the College also provides formal and informal avenues for addressing unresolved issues and for reporting grievances. The Workplace Advisor Program provides a confidential and informal process that facilitates fair and equitable resolutions to concerns that arise in the workplace. Employees also may seek support, at no charge, from Anthem’s Employee Assistance Program on a broad range of personal challenges, including those occurring in the workplace. Bowdoin also adheres to standard “whistleblower” protections for employees who come forward in good faith to report suspected violations of law or College policies.

Bowdoin has a safe working environment, and strives to get better and better. The College has consistently posted safety scores that are markedly better than the peer and industry averages. Our Workplace Safety Committee convenes quarterly to review safety concerns brought forward by employees, to review recent work-related injury data, and to plan safety trainings and consultations. Routinely, outside experts are brought to campus for staff training and individual consultations. In addition, supervisors, including senior college officials, meet with employees regularly to learn more about safety concerns and grievances.

21. How does Bowdoin assist employees who face unforeseen economic hardship?

The College understands that, at times, employees can face unforeseen financial hardship, and we have programs in place to help. The Bowdoin Staff Assistance Program (est. 2003) and the Paller Fund (est. 1998) are available to employees in every role and every compensation range. Since 2005, the College has distributed 161 grants totaling more than $100,000 through these funds. There is not a long wait, and all employees are reminded about the availability of these funds. Special rules apply to employer-sponsored assistance programs in order to avoid tax consequences for the recipient, thus requiring the College to collect basic information before making an award.

22. Why has the College been silent on these issues?

The College has responded to questions that have been raised. Most importantly, we engage directly and regularly with our hourly staff in conversations about compensation and their work for the College. In addition, the College responded to the first article about wages published in the Bowdoin Orient, and College Treasurer Matt Orlando wrote to correct the record following a second article. The College has also responded to questions from the press, and President Rose has addressed this issue in his remarks on campus, in faculty meetings, and in messages to the campus community.


We hope these points help to clarify questions that have arisen over how Bowdoin compensates its hourly staff, including our housekeepers, who are essential to making Bowdoin a special community and an exceptional liberal arts college.




Updated October 21, 2019