Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dear UMass Administration: Practice what you preach

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

“Excuse me, do you believe that all campus workers should make a living wage?” I asked a student walking by.

“Of course I do,” she replied.

“Can you sign this petition in support of a $15 minimum wage at UMass?”

“Oh wait, never mind, I don’t support that,” she said, and then continued walking.

From my experience talking to students, most believe that all workers on campus should be able to sustain themselves and their families, but often, they are misinformed on the issues facing UMass’s community of workers.

The University of Massachusetts is an exhilarating place to live and study. Many of us forget about the people that work hard here every day. Currently, Chancellor Subbaswamy and the UMass administration are paying poverty level wages to many of the workers that make UMass so delightfully livable.

Would Subbaswamy tell them to take an “oath of poverty” like he told graduate students earlier this fall? I would hope not. These are the same workers who clean our bathrooms, maintain our buildings and landscapes, and serve us food, all of which are critical services to a university.

This is unacceptable for a university that lauds itself as progressive and inclusive of all people. To remedy this situation, the Student Labor Action Project and its allies, who include students in numerous on campus organizations and multiple unions, are demanding that the University stand by its rhetoric and provide a living wage to all campus workers, including student workers.

This campaign, known as the “Fight for $15,” focuses on the plight of low wage workers here at UMass and their struggles to afford basic life necessities. Too often people describe minimum wage workers as teenagers who just flip burgers. This perception is false.

According to a blog from the U.S. Department of Labor, 89 percent of those earning the minimum wage are 20 years of age or older. Many of these older workers already have families to support, making it harder for them to live at such low wages.

In Massachusetts the current minimum wage is $10 per hour, while the federal government’s is $7.25 an hour. Neither of these wages are high enough for workers to cover typical life expenses. An increase in the minimum wage to $15 would provide workers at our University a livable wage to provide for their families. 

MIT’s Living Wage calculator defines a living wage as “the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year).” MIT calculated that in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, the hourly living wage for a family of two adults and two children, with both adults working, would be $15.63 an hour. This wage would allow them to cover necessary life expenses such as food, clothing, shelter and health care.

No worker on our campus that works 40 hours a week deserves to live in poverty. The University preaches care, compassion and inclusivity to its students. Where is the care, compassion and inclusivity for the workers? Paying workers living wages would show that the University truly cares about all of the people that comprise this institution.

As a student, it is disheartening to see the people who make sure the stalls and sinks are cleaned of vomit on Sunday mornings must also worry about having to pay rent or put food on the table. It is unfathomable to me that while I enjoy the benefits of a higher education, the workers standing right next me in the dining hall are oppressed by low wages. The University has not lived up to its values. It is time that UMass administration and Chancellor Subbaswamy start to practice what they preach.

Here at UMass it is time to put our values of inclusivity, care, compassion and active engagement into practice. I urge students, faculty and administration to support an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all campus workers. Show the Commonwealth and the nation that UMass cares about all of its people by providing them with living wages. If you are interested in joining the Fight for $15 or fighting for workers’ rights, join SLAP. SLAP meets every Thursday at 5:30 in the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy office in the Student Union, and more information can be found on our Facebook page.

Jack Danburg is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]

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    Angry ReaderFeb 11, 2016 at 12:27 am


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    RobFeb 9, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Don’t these employees have some responsibility to improve their skills and education so they can get a job where they actually earn $15 an hour. It’s not my responsibility as a taxpayer to subsidize their salaries so they don’t have to improve themselves.