Community Campaigns for Staff Living Wages

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On Thursday, Feb. 16, the Living Wage Campaign hosted a Living Wage Forum to discuss the campaign with faculty, students, and staff.

The forum was held in Schaefer Hall 109, and by 4:15 the hall was packed and chairs were filled. The key speakers were Caroline Selle ’12, Kevin Paul ’12, Associate Professor of Mathematics David Kung, and Associate Professor of Philosophy Sybol Anderson.

Selle and Paul began the forum by discussing what exactly living wage is and how it differs from how minimum wage is defined. “[Living Wage] differs from minimum wage because minimum wage is determined by politics and living wage is determined by how much it costs to live, [which includes] housing, food, etc.” said Paul.

They also presented testimonies from staff members who have faced economic hardships because they lack the financial stability. Selle stated that many staff members have had to take on a second job and many qualify for food stamps. The testimonies ranged from stories of taking in an extra boarder to forgoing needed prescriptions because they were unaffordable. “As you can see from these testimonies, there are a lot of people in this community who are suffering,” said Paul.

After the presentation of staff testimonies, Selle and Paul went on to dispel some rumors about what implementing a living wage at the College would mean for students in terms of tuition. What was stressed by both parties is that a living wage does not necessarily mean a tuition raise, and that students should not feel as though they are powerless to help this cause. “Big decisions that have been made on this campus have come from student initiative,” said Paul, who also incited last year’s Chick-Fil-A debate as a time when student activism created campus change.

When Kung took the floor, he began by setting up a scenario for his portion of the forum. He presented the monthly budget for a single mother living in St. Mary’s County who makes the average staff salary of $24, 500 per year and has an eight-year-old daughter. Kung went through the budget step by step using major monthly expenditures like health insurance, rent, childcare, vehicle expenses, and food. Kung did real research to generate the numbers he used, and he looked on websites like Craigslist in order to calculate expenses such as rent. “…I kept trying to do this [budget] and I kept running out of money,” he said. One thing that Kung made a note of while he was presenting was that his fictional child was eligible for reduced school lunches. He said he found it interesting that the state would pay for his fictional child to have lunch but would not pay him a high enough salary so that he could provide that lunch.

After he covered the “essential” bills, Kung’s budget left him with only twenty dollars for the remainder of the month. According to Kung, this twenty dollars still needs to cover clothing, home goods, car repairs, computer, Internet, cable, field trips, credit card debt, and retirement. “All I have left to spend on these things is $20.00 a month…this is what a living wage isn’t to me, this is not a living wage a single parent can live on…I think we have enough in our budget to offer a living wage to our staff on campus,” said Kung.

The next section of the forum was held by Anderson who discussed the moral questions associated with the implementation of a living wage at St. Mary’s. “I was asked to call our attention to the moral question [of the living wage] because there is a moral question,” said Anderson. When she examined this issue, Anderson came up with an argument for the implementation of the living wage, as well as an argument against the implementation of a living wage.

For both, she cited the St. Mary’s mission statement. “Our commitment to social responsibility and civic-mindedness,” was what Anderson cited as an argument for the implementation of a living wage. However, on a similar token, Anderson also used the St. Mary’s mission statement to argue against the living wage. Not implementing a living wage shows “fiscal responsibility.”

“We see institutions balancing budgets by firing people. To keep fiscal integrity some of the lowest paid staff members will be let go,” said Anderson. When she completed her presentation, Anderson opened up the forum for discussion.

The discussion generated many different points of view, but it appeared as though a majority of the people in attendance were for implementing a living wage. One of the largest points of contention appeared to be the salaries of certain campus Vice Presidents being above average of those with similar positions at St. Mary’s peer institutions.

However, not all in attendance were in favor of asking those who make the most to cut their salaries. Associate Professor of English Kate Chandler suggested cutting faculty salaries so that the college could pay staff a living wage. “…We never said anything about faculty, about cutting faculty salary. I can tell you what I make and it’s not that much, but it’s more than a living wage. I think we need to ask ourselves [faculty, to take a pay cut] not just the administration. I’m just not comfortable with that,” she said.

When the discussion turned to the possibility of raising tuition, Hortensia “Tensia” Montoya ’12 stated that she feels as though students have already been asked to give enough. “Every year that students take a tuition increase, we take a hit for this. I don’t think it’s right to think solely about a tuition increase,” said Montoya.

The steps that are being proposed by the Living Wage Campaign are ones that will either raise the living wage at the College to either $29,000 a year, which means $200,000 would be needed to make it possible, or raise it to $35,000, which would require $500,000. Kung stated that if tuition were to be increased by 1% there would be enough funds to cover this across the board, though this is simply one suggestion.

If you are interested in learning more about the Living Wage Campaign, meetings are held every Monday at 8pm. If you are interested in seeing the college budget, it has been posted on the portal following the St. Mary’s Day discussion.

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