29% raise for the boss, 0% for the workers

Monday, April 23, 2007

AFL-CIO Blog: Stanford, UMass Latest Students to Demand Living Wages

Stanford, UMass Latest Students to Demand Living Wages

by James Parks, Apr 20, 2007

A college degree can help graduates earn big salaries, yet the people who make the school run every day are taking home pennies. This week, students at Stanford University are in the midst of a hunger strike to urge the university pay living wages to cafeteria and other contract workers on campus. And after 14 weeks of fruitless bargaining, University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate employees, members of Graduate Employee Organization/UAW (GEO/UAW) Local 2322, are taking their concerns over wages directly to the chancellor.

At Stanford, 12 people, including members of the Stanford Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), alumni and workers, have been on a hunger strike since April 12. Even though the university has a living wage policy, school officials have used loopholes to pay less to hundreds of workers. SLAC is demanding that the university pay all workers—contract workers and those who work directly for the school—a living wage. Currently, students on about 15 campuses are engaged in living wage campaigns, according to ACORN’s Living Wage Resource Center.

According to the California Budget Project, a worker needs to make at least $13.41 an hour to afford the bare minimums in the Bay Area. Many of the Stanford workers make as little as $9 an hour. The mostly immigrant workers are hired by temp agencies or contractors to clean, prepare food and perform other services on the Stanford campus.

Dan Weissman, a graduate student and one of the hunger strikers, says the issue is one the students care deeply about and that the university should be supporting.

We shouldn’t have to be trying to convince the university to do this. They should be saying this is something they want to do. It should be a priority. This is something that benefits the whole university.

Stanford is trying to educate students in all aspects of life, including ethics and community responsibility. Right now it’s failing.

Four years ago, after workers and students rallied for a living wage, Stanford President John Hennessy agreed to pay a living wage with certain restrictions. But it soon was evident the restrictions excluded most of the workers. Then in June 2004, a university commission recommended that the living wage policy drop most of the restrictions. Now, three years later, nothing has been done.

Sophomore Lisa Llanos, another hunger striker says:

It’s hard to think of folks trying to make it with kids on $9 or $10 an hour. Health care is usually the first to go when you’re pressed for money. Stanford wouldn’t be able to run if it weren’t for the workers.

The students who met with Hennessy this week are determined to see the fight through until the end. “We will end the fast when we feel the university has begun to discuss these issues in good faith and we feel we can come to agreement on some of the key issues,” Matt Seriff-Cullick, a student organizer, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

For more on the hunger strike and for live updates, click here. Act now to help the Stanford workers. To sign a petition demanding a living wage for workers at Stanford, click here.

Meanwhile, graduate assistants at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are demanding a living wage of their own. After bargaining for 14 weeks with no progress, members of GEO/ UAW Local 2322 marched across campus to the home of Chancellor John Lombardi to let him know that the school’s 2,500 grad assistants deserve to be paid a fair salary.

Nate Johnson of Local 2322 said:

If UMass is going to continue to attract quality graduate students, quality students, they’re going to have to provide a living wage.

We teach about half the classes at UMass and if you’re a parent of an undergraduate thinking about UMass, you need to think about how the graduate students that are teaching your children are going to be compensated.

Click here for a TV news report of the demonstration.

The living wage issue also was a key part of actions in the Student Labor Action Project’s week of action March 28–April 4. During the week in Nashville, Tenn., students, workers, community members and faith leaders will call on Vanderbilt University to step up and pay a living wage. Vanderbilt, the second-largest employer in Tennessee, historically has resisted adopting a living wage due to supposed budget and economic restraints. Yet Vanderbilt’s chancellor, Gordon Gee, is the third-highest paid university chief in the United States, earning a nearly $1.4 million annual salary, according to The Wall Street Journal. Tuition exceeds $40,000 per year for full-time undergraduate students, and the university endowment is more than $2 billion, according to the Vanderbilt Register.

Also during SLAP week, students and labor, community and faith leaders united for a Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez Memorial Prayer Vigil and Rally at the University of Pennsylvania in support of security officers who are fighting for family-sustaining wages, affordable health care, paid sick days and pensions for those who keep the university safe.

Last year, students at Purdue University went on a hunger strike for 27 days to demand the university ensure that apparel with the college’s logo is made in factories where workers are free to join a union and can bargain toward a living wage. Students at Georgetown University and the University of Miami waged successful hunger strikes as part of a series of living wage campaigns on campuses in support of janitors, food service workers and other low-wage university staff.

Tags: Stanford University, Stanford Labor Action Coalition, living wage
Channels: Organizing & Bargaining

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