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CLAP, University face wage issue

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, April 20, 2006

Adding a scholarly voice to the Campus Labor Action Project’s campaign for a living wage for Notre Dame workers, economics professor Teresa Ghilarducci argued Wednesday that CLAP’s demand for a $12.10 hourly wage will be most effective when combined with a union neutrality clause.

“They are inseparable, but if we were to only choose one, the one demand that would have the most lasting effect on the standard of living for Notre Dame employees would be the union neutrality clause,” Ghilarducci said.

On March 8, CLAP members delivered an 11-page report to top University administrators that demanded Notre Dame institute a living wage for workers – a practice already in place at several major universities like Georgetown and Harvard. The report also called for the creation of a joint task force made up of campus workers, students, administrators and possibly alumni to investigate the conditions under which low-wage workers at Notre Dame live.

Finally, the report advocated a union neutrality clause, a demand Ghilarducci reinforced Wednesday as the key to achieving the best outcome for Notre Dame workers.

Calling the goals of CLAP “small, modest and easy for an enterprise like Notre Dame to accept,” Ghilarducci explained the feasibility of a living wage at Notre Dame, noting that without organized workers, CLAP’s initiatives will be a challenge to achieve.

But the significance of CLAP’s report, Ghilarducci said, reaches a much larger scale.

“It is also monumental in terms of Notre Dame’s efforts to be a moral conscience and model of moral conscience in American society,” Ghilarducci said. “This demand is both small and monumental.”

Ghilarducci said CLAP members used an extensive methodology in determining the living wage for Notre Dame workers, and determined a number – $12.10 – that is at the low end of predictions economists have determined as an appropriate living wage. Some economists call for a living wage of $11.93 per hour while others demand as much as $19.83 per hour, depending on what factors are considered when determining what is needed to survive.

“CLAP has actually chosen a very modest number,” Ghilarducci said.

But the living wage has a fatal flaw, she said.

“The living wage is not an opportunity wage,” she said. “It doesn’t budget for things workers need to get ahead,” she said. “It doesn’t account for working class to become middle class … or for networking like a cell phone.

“It’s also not a fair wage or a relative wage. It was constructed without regard to what coaches make at Notre Dame or administration or faculty. … It’s the smallest number possible. What do Notre Dame workers need to get to work every day?”

Ghilarducci argued that a union neutrality clause must be put in place to ensure that if Notre Dame workers wanted to appeal for a fair wage or opportunity wage, they would have the opportunity to organize and be heard.

“Notre Dame would not be obligated to meet with janitorial staff to discuss what the curriculum should be in the physics department … [but] it’s obligated to talk about parts of the contract that affect wages, hours, and working conditions.”

Federal law already requires employers to engage in bargaining if their workers unionize, and the union neutrality clause would simply reemphasize that requirement, Ghilarducci said.

But Ghilarducci was quick to point out the steps Notre Dame has pursued to take care of its workers, such as its longstanding policy of only using unionized construction workers. She said Notre Dame was the first university to extend a code of conduct to businesses it works with – stating it would not buy goods from companies that have sweatshop conditions or that operate in countries that don’t allow workers to organize.

“I’m very proud of these developments,” she said.

Following her talk, Ghilarducci opened the floor to questions. When asked why workers on campus have been relatively quiet while CLAP’s initiatives have been publicized, Ghilarducci immediately wrote “FEAR” on the dry erase board behind her.

“The fear of workers in America for being laid off and not getting jobs of equal pay with benefits has never been higher in the U.S,” she said. “One out of 20 workers who join unions are fired for union activity … even though it’s illegal.”

Likening students to consumers, Ghilarducci said students have the potential to be “very effective” in bringing about change for two reasons.

“[T]hey’re the largest group and they pay. They’re the customers,” she said. “To ask how effective student movements are is also asking how effective consumer movements are.”

Ghilarducci said student movements like CLAP’s – which has similar initiatives to those at Georgetown and Harvard Universities – are most effective with the backing of a union. But Notre Dame workers are not unionized.

“[Students] were working alongside the union in Harvard and Georgetown,” she said.

“They were putting exclamation points after the demands the union representatives had already made. Students at Notre Dame can’t obligate Notre Dame to sit down with worker representatives to bargain in good faith. Only workers can do that … you get closer if workers have a say in it.”

Ghilarducci acknowledged the existence of the Staff Advisory Council at Notre Dame, where staff representatives from each department can bring complaints and concerns.

“[But] the last step in this process is controlled by the employer,” she said. “If there’s no union, the employer decides if the employer was unfair. … Usually company organizations [like SAC] are established when there’s union rumblings.”

Members of CLAP are scheduled to meet with Executive Assistant to the President Frances Shavers Friday for a follow-up meeting.