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April 17, 2012 12:18 am

Students, Staff Protest in Living Rage Rally

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On Friday afternoon, April 13, a crowd of students, faculty, and staff members marched across campus to raise awareness about how staff members at the College are not receiving a living wage. The members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) called the rally “Living Rage.”

“This march is to show how serious we are,” said senior Caroline Selle, one of the campaign organizers for the rally. “We are here to show how students and staff are in solidarity with each other… We need to see concrete action from the administration and we need to see proof of it. And that’s something we haven’t seen yet…We haven’t seen it to the necessary extent.”

Students gathered and rallied throughout campus to show support for the College's staff and the Living Wage Campaign (Photo submitted by Ashok Chandwaney)
Students gathered and rallied throughout campus to show support for the College's staff and the Living Wage Campaign (Photo submitted by Ashok Chandwaney)

“[President Urgo] literally did not mention living wage once during the Board of Trustees meeting,” said senior Kevin Paul, another campaign organizer. “His stance has pretty much been dismissive of the entire issue. He’s been kicking the can down the road for too long. He has a lot of power, and we have a lobbyist in Annapolis. Why aren’t we using [the lobbyist] to fix the impasse [Urgo’s] been talking about?”

“As you may know from recent news reports, the State of Maryland is at a budgetary impasse which directly affects the budget of the College and, specifically, its authority to increase salaries,” said Urgo in a recent all-student email. “While the College has budgeted for salary increases in FY13 (the budget year that begins on July 1, 2012), no definitive action can be taken until the College receives appropriate authorization.”

“Once the State gives us the green light, our designated [American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)] union representatives will meet with us to discuss wage increases,” said Urgo. “We remain dedicated to increase employee wages that have not increased during the salary freeze and intend to do so once we receive clearance from the State.”

“I thought it was really telling that President Urgo desperately was trying to organize a meeting with students yesterday primarily because he didn’t understand what we said we’d be protesting,” said Selle in reference to the email. “Students have offered to lobby on the state level, which is incredible initiative, while the administration has not moved it forward much at all. Most of the information in the email is accurate, but the administration has not been doing enough to put pressure on our decision-makers at the state level to make it possible for us to pay our staff better.”

“We’re angry and frustrated that all of our good intentions and enthusiasm have just been sort of ignored,” said another campaign organizer, senior Emily Saari. “I think we’ve done all the necessary research and we’ve tried really hard to work with [the administration]… We wanted this to be a community dialogue for as long as possible but it’s just not working anymore.”

There have been talks amongst SDS members that one of the reasons why the administration is not taking any action is because most of the heads of SDS and the campaign are seniors.

“The administration sees that it’s April and they can wait until graduation and this issue will die out,” said Saari. “But we’ve been talking to underclassmen and future [Student Government Association] executive board members and we’re not thinking this is going to end at the end of this semester.”

“What we’ve learned is when we have meetings with the administration, we’re not taken seriously,” said senior John Mumby. “Last time there was a substantial raise, it was when students occupied [the president’s] office. We’ve only just now been taken seriously. Something like this is a last resort. But if this is what it takes to make sure people are getting paid what they deserve… then we’ll be at Urgo’s open hour every [Wednesday] at one.”

A staff member present at the rally said he was there for the sake of “fairness.” He continued by saying, “[The administrators] all have found ways every year to gives raises… except not to the people who are the poorest on this campus… I’ve said from the beginning that this is for all staff. If it’s a pay freeze for everyone, then it should be for everyone, not just for certain [people].”

Students congregated outside the Bike Shop in Waring Commons at 2:45 p.m. and then began their march across campus to Urgo’s office in Calvert Hall. Members of the crowd were holding large cardboard signs advocating for the living wage and support for the staff. Senior Johanna Galat, another campaign manager, led the march with a megaphone. She led various chants like, “One, two, three, four, no one should be working poor. Five, six, seven, eight, show who we appreciate.” One chant that particularly stood out was, “Hey Urgo, hey Tom, your budget makes us wanna vom.”

As the students marched by the Waring Commons parking lot, a staff member called out to the crowd, wishing she could join the march, “I wish I didn’t have to work. I’m so impressed right now.”

As the crowd moved across campus, various students joined in. Some could not join for various reasons but applauded the crowd as it went by. On the way past Montgomery Hall, junior Gino Hannah joined the crowd with his tuba, adding some music to the chants.

Friday, April 13 was Accepted Students Day, so many future St. Mary’s students were present to see the political activism that occurs on campus.

Galat stopped the crowd at Kent Hall to speak to them and explain again why they were marching. Public Safety officers and Director of Public Safety Dave Zylak stood by. Paul stood before the crowd and read some anonymous staff member testimonies, showing how staff often do not have enough money to afford basic living expenses.

Some of the testimonies said that staff members are forced to use vacation days on snow days when the college is closed because they cannot safely travel to work. One staff member said in a testimonial, “The way they have doled out raises is reprehensible.”

After the testimonials, Galat led the crowd to the front steps of Calvert to continue to rally and get Urgo’s attention.

Various students and staff members present took turns speaking out to the crowd. “The state has given us roadblocks, but we are looking for detours,” said senior Glenn Razafindrainibe to the crowd. “We want to find a way around the freeze.”

Kathy Lewin, Office Associate II, stepped in frond of the crowd to say, “You guys rock!”

“We’re not going to stop,” said first-year Abiola Akanni, “I’m a first-year and I will keep fighting until I’m a senior.”

After the crowd had been chanting outside of Calvert for a while, President Urgo came outside and addressed the crowd. Amidst frequent interruptions and chants from the crowd, he urged students to write to state legislative members to work on the budget because he personally is not allowed to bargain by state law.

“I do respect what you’re doing here,” said Urgo, “You can do things as students that I cannot do as the President.”

After the speech, a union representative said in conversation about Urgo, “I don’t think he’s being fast and loose with the facts.”

The union representative also explained how there are three different types of raises: cost of living increases, merit increases, and an increase caused by a reclassification. He stated that the raise that Laura Bayless, former Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, received was the result of a reclassification.

“If [the administration] wanted, they could reclassify every employee and give them a new title,” said the representative. When asked how he would reclassify the Caretakers, he said “well, make one up… like Recycling Technicians.”

According to administrators, Bayless’ title was changed from Dean of Students to Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students to reflect her increase in job responsibilities, which included increased involvement in Student Affairs.

Galat led the students to the boathouse and ended the rally there with more chants and cheers. “We hope to see you all at Urgo’s open hour,” said Galat as the rally came to an end.

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