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Living Wage Press

The Meaning of a Living Wage, The Value of Community

By The Living Wage Coalition

The College of William and Mary states, “We take our responsibility to provide good working conditions, pay, benefits and personal growth and development opportunities seriously. We believe in the dignity of each employee and expect employees to treat others with fairness, respect and openness.”[1] Nevertheless, many employees of the University, both direct and contracted, do not earn enough money to meet their own basic needs and the needs of their families. We must confront the reality that many of the hands that build and maintain our University remain underpaid. The Living Wage Campaign asserts that workers are an integral part of our community, and as we are all stakeholders in this University, we have a responsibility to address the issues of inequality and injustice affecting anyone on Campus [2].

What is a living wage and what are our workers making?

The concept of a living wage emerged from the recognition that the national poverty line, as calculated from a method developed in the 1960s by the US Census Bureau, is no longer a sufficient means to determine the cost of living for families in America. A living wage is meant to reflect the basic needs of a family and differs depending on a family.s geographical location and number of family members [3]. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a non-partisan think-tank based in Washington, DC, provides a living wage calculator based on seven categories of expenses: housing, food, childcare, transportation, health care, other necessities and taxes. The EPI calculates the cost of living for a family with one parent and one child in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Newport News area totals $36,644 ($17.62/hr) [4]. It is important to note that the EPI.s basic family budget is indeed "basic." It comprises only the amount a family needs in order to feed, shelter, and clothe itself, get to work and school, and subsist in 21st century America. Hence, it includes no savings, no restaurant meals, no funds for emergencies—not even renters. insurance to protect against fire, flood or theft [5].

There are approximately 360 William and Mary employees earning an annual salary below $31,200 ($15/hr). This number does not reflect the number of employees working for an hourly wage or workers sub-contracted to companies like Aramark. Of the 104 housekeepers earning a salary at the College, 75% are making at or under $21,995 ($10.57/hr) [6]. This is a significant discrepancy from the $36,644 cost of living calculated by the EPI, and helps explain why many employees of the College have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

How are poverty wages affecting the daily lives of workers?

To understand the real-life impacts of poverty wages on campus, consider this story from someone whose family has been part of William and Mary and the greater Williamsburg community for over one hundred years. To respect her wish to remain anonymous, we will call her Anita. Anita worked at the College for 25 years as a maid (the job title formerly given to Housekeepers at the College) before retiring. However, because Anita.s retirement pay was so low, she was compelled to return to work. For the next twenty years Anita worked part-time as a housekeeper for the College. Despite her deteriorating health, she was unable to retire because the cost of living far outstripped what she could save as a maid during her first 25 years of employment or earn from retirement. One day during work at the age of 88, Anita was taken to the hospital by ambulance after she fell over
while trying to lift multiple garbage bags. After this incident Anita was forced to retire and she still struggles every day to pay her medical bills. Anita said in an interview with a member of the Living Wage Coalition (LWC) that despite all of this she still loves the College and would return to work if she were physically able.
Today, many William and Mary workers must work two to three jobs to make ends meet and provide for their families. The following worker testimonies highlight these realities. Shelly, a William and Mary Housekeeper states, “I.m paid $800 on the 1st and the 16th, but after tax and everything, that.s $600. That.s supposed to pay my house payment, water, lights, food… I work three jobs.” A worker who wishes to remain anonymous explains, “I.m working two jobs. You have to. You have to make ends meet. Everything.s going up but the paycheck: water, rent, everything.” Barbara, another William and Mary Housekeeper also shares, “ been here for 20 years. I.m 42 years old now... I like the work that I do, but the pay is terrible. I have two kids. One is a junior in high school and wants to go to college. How is that going to happen when my paycheck is $1500 a month? I.m still living at home with my mom. I.m not financially able to live on my own.” As these stories illustrate, the hardships of being paid poverty wages are manifold. Workers at William and Mary are unable to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families.

History of Living Wages at W&M

It is a common misconception that poverty wages are a new issue at the College. Ten years ago, workers and students ran a Living Wage Campaign at William and Mary. In March 2001, as a direct result of the campaign, President Sullivan formed the Committee on Employment Opportunity (CEO). The purpose of this committee was to research working conditions and compensation at the College. This committee included professors of economics, business and law, administration from the School of Business, members from the Black Faculty and Staff Forum, and Anna Martin, Vice President for Administration. The report from the committee concluded:

In today’s period of fiscal uncertainty, setting priorities is a delicate process… Yet, the evidence in this report strongly indicates that the College’s classified and hourly employees, the individuals that underpin the College structure, need to be placed higher on the list of the institution’s priorities... Continuing to ask over two-thirds of the College’s employees to do more and more with even fewer and fewer resources and rewards is truly putting the College’s ability to achieve its mission, specific goals, and vision as presented in William and Mary 2010 in jeopardy [7].

Despite this stated commitment to College employees, the CEO dissolved in less than three years. Many campus members saw this previous campaign as a success because President Sullivan instituted a 22% increase for the College.s lowest paid workers, bringing every worker up to at least $8.50 as a direct result of student and worker pressure. However, many of the workers who had been at the College for 15-20 years were disappointed because this wage increase did not account for their increased experience, time, and dedication to the College. Many workers who had been here for decades were being paid less than those who were newly hired. Although much research was completed by the CEO and multiple meetings were held between workers and administration members to rectify these problems, the administration has failed to address a majority of the recommendations made by this committee. The reality remains today that many of the College.s workers who are responsible for the maintenance and continued success of William and Mary do not receive enough money to make ends meet.

William and Mary workers are an integral part of our community

The Living Wage Campaign is aimed toward reevaluating the priorities we hold as a campus community. Workers comprise a necessary and central part of our Tribe family. In comparison to the four short years most undergraduates

spend on campus, many college employees dedicate the majority of their working years to William and Mary. Because one.s experience at work greatly affects other aspects of life, it is critical that jobs offered at our university provide a sense of dignity. It is critical that we reconsider the ways in which workers are excluded from our community and begin to

respect their place at this institution. The bonds that workers and students are already forming are one way that workers. voices are becoming more audible on campus. In addition, this student-worker dialogue creates meaningful relationships and a more amiable atmosphere for everyone on campus.

While it is true that William and Mary pays above the „market wage., we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Since William and Mary fosters leadership in academics and community service, we can also become leaders in worker rights. We recognize that markets do not exist outside of human intervention. A living wage shifts from the ideology that markets should be free, to the ideology that markets should promote freedom: the freedom for full-time, hard-working employees anywhere to make enough money to pay the rent and send their children to college. A living wage, in the end, is about democracy. It is about bringing the economy back under the control of the people that it affects. As students who believe that our tuition dollars should not contribute to poverty in the Hampton Roads region, we trust that William and Mary can find creative solutions for implementing a living wage, and can thus set a precedent for colleges and universities everywhere.

The College’s statement of diversity claims, “We actively demonstrate our commitment to the success of all community members through our programs, policies, and services.” We must confront the reality that people of color, and women, make up a majority of the lowest paid workers at William and Mary. A living wage challenges the continued history of racial, gender, and socioeconomic injustice that persists in Williamsburg, the state of Virginia, and our nation.

The Current Campaign, A Summary from Fall 2010

Students in the Tidewater Labor Support Committee have been supporting workers on our campus for over ten years. At the beginning of fall 2010, workers contacted students in TLSC to discuss their poverty level wages and other injustices they face in the workplace. Residence Life housekeepers began to meet regularly and decided that their two most pressing issues were their wages and the numerous vacancies in housekeeping. Although workers saw filling the vacancies as an immediate short-term goal, they were clear that they wanted to spearhead another Living Wage Campaign. A delegation of over 25 workers and students delivered a letter to Allison Wildridge, Associate Director of Residence Life, outlining their demands and asked Ms. Wildridge to take immediate steps to alleviate these issues. When Ms. Wildridge refused to address the workers. concerns, the group sent a similar delegation to Vice President of Administration Anna Martin. This event marked the campaign.s first big victory. After the second delegation, the administration immediately hired temporary workers, and began interviewing permanent housekeepers within days. Despite this victory, the administration still refused to address the issue of wages, which compelled workers and students to approach President Reveley. Over 100 people attended the delegation to President Reveley where workers presented him with their demands and asked that he take immediate steps towards implementing a living wage. President Reveley spoke to the crowd but would not address workers. wages.

The Living Wage Coalition was then formed as an independent group representing a diverse population of students from many different organizations who were all committed to addressing this problem on campus. The coalition held many actions including a Worker Speak Out Panel, a Day of Worker Stories, and a Living Wage Week of Action. The

Week of Action culminated in a Rally to Restore Sanity on Campus, at which President Reveley was asked to sign a pledge card in support of living wages. Unfortunately, he refused to do so and students held a Tent City and candlelight vigil in the Wren Courtyard that night.

During this time housekeepers from Facilities Management began regular meetings to address the issue of poverty wages. Now, housekeepers from both Residence Life and Facilities Management are organizing together, determined to secure a living wage and to reclaim their rights as workers and as people despite the intimidation they face from Virginia’s anti-organizing Right to Work policies [8].

Although the administration sat down with workers and students in meetings of open dialogue over ten times last semester, the administration still refuses to take meaningful steps towards implementing a living wage. However, the LWC.s public actions have gained the campaign visibility and support from all over campus and the larger Williamsburg community.

Now that we have William and Mary and Williamsburg.s attention, it is time to increase our support base even further to show the administration that we are not giving up on this issue. After a ten-year struggle, we are confident that living wages are a necessary and possible component of William and Mary. Harvard ran a successful Living Wage Campaign in 2001 and Georgetown ran a successful Living Wage Campaign in 2005, during which workers received unprecedented wage increases. As the Committee on Employment Opportunity.s statement from above suggests, it seems as if the College is in a perpetual state of financial crisis. We can longer wait for “the right time” to implement a living wage. The right time is now.

We are not alone in our struggle for living wages

William and Mary is not alone in its struggle to attain living wages for campus workers. Students across the nation in United Students Against Sweatshops are fighting for an end to sweatshop conditions on our campuses and in the factories that produce our college apparel. There are currently living wage campaigns from Boston to Virginia where students are successfully fighting back against policies that benefit a few and hurt our communities. At the University of California, there is a statewide campaign aimed at improving working conditions for clerical workers. In addition, many students across the country are campaigning against the unfair working conditions of Sodexo, a company much like Aramark that provides food services to many colleges and universities.

Trends show that schools often prioritize “profit-making” departments, and during times of budget crisis they off- set costs by implementing layoffs and cutting money from non-revenue generating departments. However, trends show that while administrators implement layoffs, tuition hikes, furloughs, diversity program cuts, and pay workers poverty-level wages, administrators receive raises and pour money into construction projects and profit making departments [9]. The Living Wage Coalition sees itself as part of a broader student movement to take back our colleges from corporate-friendly administrators that run our schools like businesses. We stand in solidarity with workers and students across the nation who believe that we should have an active say in the decision making process of our schools.

The Economics of a Living Wage

It would have taken less than 1% of last year.s operating budget to bring every salaried employee at the College up to $15/hr, a wage that better reflects the cost of living. A living wage ultimately cuts business costs by reducing turnover rates while raising productivity, job commitment, and morale.

The standard neoliberal argument in economic theory holds that as the cost of labor increases, fewer workers will be hired, unemployment will rise and businesses will relocate to low-wage regions [10]. However, numerous studies show that living wage policies and ordinances have the potential to benefit institutions and local economics and communities, and do not contribute to unemployment. Economists have conducted dozens of studies showing that minimum wage increases and living wage ordinances do not significantly affect unemployment [11]. In David Card and Alan B.s groundbreaking research, the authors conducted an exhaustive study that put standard economic theory to the test using numerous examples of increases in the minimum wage from various cities. They found that the minimum wage increases lead to increases in pay, but not in increased unemployment [12]. Furthermore, a number of studies by economists have shown little to no significant substitution of “higher-skill” employees into the workforce as a result of living wage ordinances [13].

Studies also show that higher wages can contribute to efficiency. Higher wages reduce turnover, which can be extremely costly to production schedules. Several studies of businesses that pay high wages have indeed found them to reap enormous benefits from this [14].

Higher wages can also benefit the local economy. Numerous studies have reported that higher wages actually contribute to the local economy, as workers have more money to spend. Students and professors at the University of Virginia put together a report detailing the positive effects of a living wage on institutions and communities [15]. They explain that by paying the workers a living wage, they could decrease the number of workers relying on public means of financial assistance. This is not only more efficient for workers, but also beneficial to the local economy. Workers that earn higher wages could afford to live in the higher quality housing closer to the University, both reducing the need for long commutes and making it more likely that workers will spend their money locally. Workers may also be better able to afford medical expenses, which would help them further support the economic and social health of the region.

While many studies have proven wage increases to be economically beneficial to businesses, a living wage enhances more than that which one can measure in strictly economic terms. The purpose of a university is not to earn a profit, but to educate students so that they can become virtuous citizens. The Living Wage Coalition asserts that we can afford, and we must afford, to pay wages that reflect basic respect for human dignity.


Over the past few decades, the call for a living wage has resonated across America, and over 150 cities, counties, and universities nationwide have responded. Today we call upon the College of William and Mary to follow suit, and to set a precedent for colleges and Universities in Virginia and across the nation.

Now is the time to rise to the standards of our own rhetoric. Now it is the time to transform our ideals into reality, to put our education into our action, and to bring into being the kind of College that we can be proud to attend: one that compensates all members of our community fairly and equitably and does not accept conditions of inequality as inevitable costs of our institutional success. As students and activists, our hands are not tied; the policies and practices of this University are the outcome of explicit decisions made by real people. And if real people created this problem, real people can fix it.

Call to Action:

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that now we have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Join us on Monday, January 24th at 8:30PM in Washington 308 for our first Living Wage Coalition meeting of the year, and join the fight to end poverty and injustice on our campus! ---
[1] Human Resources, The College of William and Mary, 2008
[2] Much of this document is inspired by and in parts taken directly from UVA.s Living Wage Campaign.s cornerstone work “Keeping Our Promises” with the permission of Erin
Franey, contributor. . [3] For additional reading on the cost of living, consult Lin and Bernstein.s “What We Need to Get By”
[4] The EPI does not calculate wages for Williamsburg, VA. Other than Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Newport News, the next closest area the EPI calculates wages for is Richmond, VA.
[5] For a detailed explanation of how the EPI calculates a living wage, please see “2008 Economic Policy Institute Family Budget Technical Documentation” [6] Human Resources, The College of William and Mary, Fall 2010
[7] Pages 6-9 in CEO document, see
[8] For recent news coverage on right to work laws in the United States go to DemocracyNow!’s story “Crackdown on Organized Labor: States Call for Wage & Benefits Cuts, Urge Laws to Curb Union Influence” aired on January 6, 2011.
[9] Jacques Steinberg, “Pay Rises for Leaders of Colleges, Survey Says,” New York Times, January 18, 2010.
[11] Christopher Niedt, Greg Ruiters, Dana Wise, and Erica Schoenberger “The effects of the Living Wage in Baltimore,” 1999. Also: Bruce Nissen and Jen Wolfe Borum“A Difference that Matters: The Impact of the Miami-Dade Living Wage Ordinance,” RISEP, 2006.
[12] David Card and Alan B Krueger, Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995)
[13] Mark D Brenner, “The Economic impact of the Boston living wage ordinance,” International Relations 44 (2005): p 59-83., Mark D. Brenner and Stephanie Luce, Living Wage Laws in Practice: The Boston, New Haven and Hartford Experiences (Amherst, Massachusetts: Political Economy Research Institute, 2005)., Fairris and David and Michael Reich, “The impacts of living wage policies: introduction to the special issue,” Industrial Relations 44 (2005) pp1-13., Michael Reich, Peter Hall, and Ken Jacobs, “Living Wage policies at the San Francisco airport: impacts on workers and businesses,” Industrial Relations 44 (2005) pp 106-38.
[14] Choosing the High Road: Businesses that Pay a Living Wage and Prosper, Center for responsible Wealth, 2000). See also; Jerold L. Waltman, The Case For The Living Wage (Algora Publishing, 2004), 69.,. Also; Card and Krueger
[15] See “Keeping Our Promises”