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Wage Issue: Affleck-Graves backs existing policies

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, April 20, 2006

Maintaining the University already provides a “fair and just wage” for its employees, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves issued a statement Wednesday in response to the Campus Labor Action Project’s recent appeal for a $12.10 hourly wage for campus workers.

“In addition to their base wages, employees at Notre Dame also earn a host of additional benefits, all of which add up to a compensation package that makes Notre Dame the employer of choice for workers in this region,” Affleck-Graves said in the statement.

In his two-page response, Affleck-Graves addressed specific points in CLAP’s 11-page “Living Wage Report,” calling CLAP’s assertion that University employees “fear reprisal” if they speak on their own behalf “deeply disturbing.”

“We already have several channels in place through which employees can bring complaints and concerns. … We encourage employees to use these mechanisms to share their experiences and thoughts,” Affleck-Graves said.

Along with University President Father John Jenkins and other top administrators, Affleck-Graves met with CLAP members on March 31 to articulate their response to CLAP’s report – a document that provided a framework for a living wage and structures to sustain it.

At that meeting, administrators told the activists that the issue was between the University and its employees – not students, according to CLAP lead organizer Kamaria Porter. Affleck-Graves reiterated that sentiment in his statement, rejecting the need for a task force that would investigate the conditions under which low-wage employees at Notre Dame live.

“While exchanges between the University administration and various student groups have been informative, in candor, the dialogue is appropriately one that regularly occurs between the University’s representatives and its formal employee channels,” Affleck-Graves said.

Affleck-Graves pledged to make full use of the Staff Advisory Council – a forum where elected staff members from each department can speak on behalf of workers – to “assure employees that they are secure when voicing their concerns.”

Economics professor Teresa Ghilarducci spoke at the CLAP forum Wednesday night and said a unionized workforce could help to establish a living wage for workers.

Affleck-Graves, however, said a union should not be necessary, since the University works diligently to keep an “open and honest relationship” between the University and its workers.

“Notre Dame has long recognized the right of our employees to unionize if they wish, and has stated that if they do vote to have a union the University will bargain for it ‘in good faith,'” Affleck-Graves said. “At the same time, the University has always tried to conduct itself in its relations with its employees so that they would feel as we do: that there is nothing a union can accomplish that cannot be accomplished their an open and honest relationship … “

A family of four is not an accurate measuring rod when determining a living wage, Affleck-Graves said, since it “ignores the fact that 50 percent of the workers in this group have a family size of fewer than four people and many are, indeed, single.”

Affleck-Graves also noted the “very valuable” benefits the University provides to its employees, such as providing coverage of 87 percent of health insurance on average, providing long-term disability insurance for each employee at no cost and providing a pension plan for staff employees at no cost, among other benefits.

“Our system of compensation is neither fundamentally unjust, as the CLAP document implies, or incapable of fairly addressing those needs and inequities that do exist,” Affleck-Graves said.