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Chance to set example

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, February 27, 2006

In response to Alex Forshaw’s letter (“‘Fair wages’ not fair at all,” Feb. 23) regarding the living wage debate, I feel that it is necessary to step back and take a look at the purpose of Notre Dame as a university and as a Catholic institution. Mr. Forshaw said, “The University’s main purpose is to serve its students with the best learning environment possible.” This statement is true, but incomplete. The University must serve its students with the best learning environment possible – in terms of the Christian community in which it strives to be a leader. A necessary way of doing this is to be an example of Catholic behavior to the students whom the University is teaching. Paying our employees living wage is one way to be such an example.

Many people opposed to the living wage, including Forshaw, have mentioned market-based factors as reasons for keeping employees’ wages at current levels, and they are correct in terms of the large-scale economy. Companies in free-market societies are motivated by the need to make a profit, and thus raise their employees’ pay only when market forces dictate. Many of these opponents fear that a mandatory increase of the minimum wage would cause such companies to “find ways to replace many of them [the employees] with machinery that can get the job done more cheaply,” in the words of Forshaw. As I said before, this is correct when one looks at the nationwide, large-scale market economy.

However, Notre Dame is not a profit-based company. Notre Dame is an educational, privately-funded institution that is not at the mercy of market forces. This means that its Christian values, not the market, should dictate wages and consequently compel it to raise its employees’ wages without reducing their numbers. Considering the size of its endowment ($3 billion) and its rapidly-inflating tuition, which will almost certainly rise again next year (with or without a living wage policy). If the University cannot or will not pay a living wage to its staff, its Catholic character in this respect would be, at best, dubious.

Michael WodarcykfreshmanAlumni HallFeb. 24