The St. Mary’s Wages campaign hosted an open forum in the Schaefer Hall lecture room on Wednesday, Sept. 25, in which all students, faculty, and staff were invited to discuss the recently drafted proposal that would give the lowest-paid staff members of St. Mary’s a salary raise that would match the cost of living in St. Mary’s County. The filled lecture hall listened to the presentations of three members of the St. Mary’s faculty and staff who have been instrumental in the campaign.
Sandy Ganzell, Associate Professor of Mathematics, opened the forum by presenting statistics which demonstrated lowest and highest salaries of College employees can be set at a reasonable rate that will not cause the yearly tuition rates to grow, even though the College’s main source of income comes from tuition.
In the proposal, the benchmark salary for the lowest paid employees is $29,976, which is 130 percent of the official national poverty line for a family of four, which is $23,058. At this rate of 130 percent, Ganzell said that “single-income earners at the college would no longer have to rely on Food Stamps or SNAPS (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). When you think about this, a full-time employee at St. Mary’s shouldn’t have to rely on this, if we’re trying to set ourselves up as an elite institution of the United States.”
“We don’t want to have to keep fighting this fight,” said Ganzell, who emphasized that this proposal could be a permanent fix for the ongoing campaign for a living wage that has happened every few years at the College.
Ganzell also described how this plan could go into effect within the coming year as a result of the admissions shortage earlier this year without having to raise tuition. After making $3.5 million worth of cuts to the budget in anticipation of a smaller-than-average class of first-years, the College ended up enrolling more students than expected. The extra money that was not needed to be cut from the budget could be used to redistribute salaries.
Robin Bates, Professor of English, provided a historical context for St. Mary’s commitment to creating a community that treats each of its members with respect and with an awareness of social equality, a commitment that matches the goals of the living wage proposal. “We’ve always had that goal of upward social mobility so everyone can have a small public liberal arts college experience,” said Bates. “This high-quality education is available to people whose parents hadn’t gone to college, and a wide variety of people who are usually shut out from that kind of education” such as students of color or students from low-income families.
Brad Newkirk, union president for the staff at St. Mary’s under AFSCME (Association for Federal, State, and County Municipal Employees), also gave a brief statement about how the union’s perspective on the new proposal. “The local chapter on campus is definitely behind cuts to the highest earners at the College, and we are definitely in support of a living wage benchmark,” he said. “We have sat down with some of the folks behind this proposal to hash out the language so that it can be on the same page, and move forward.”
As a result of the forum, Students for a Democratic Society decided to send a group of students to the Board of Trustees’ open forum on the presidential search committee, in which members of the St. Mary’s community were allowed to voice their opinions on what qualities they would like to see in the new president, or what issues they would like the new president to focus on.