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Living wage a necessity

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Notre Dame provides some wonderful benefits to its full-time workers (only), such as health insurance, access to workout and library facilities and the chance for workers’ children to attend Notre Dame for free. But if families cannot put food on the table, benefits mean nothing. Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP) has calculated the living wage of $12.10 based on the costs of living. A family of four making less than $12.10 an hour would qualify for food stamps. No Notre Dame worker should need to accept federal assistance to feed his or her family. And workers do receive good healthcare at Notre Dame.

Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal, but transcends political classification to support that which affirms the value of life. CLAP is sponsored by both PSA and Right to Life. That’s right, progressives and conservatives. A living wage is not conservative or liberal; it is Catholic, demanded by Leo XIII, Pius XI, Paul VI, John XXIII and John Paul II. Catholics do not believe that the worth of human work is determined by the market, but that every human has the right to make enough to support his or her family through his or her labor. The ultimate end of any government or economy is not the market, but the human person. This is not welfare. This is not charity. This is justice. No person who works a full-time job should need government support to subsist.

Giving money is not the point. While I’d be happy to “ante-up” what I could, it would not solve the systemic problem of prioritizing the market over people. Capitalism is not our god. Furthermore, statistics from municipal living wages show that service work contracts increased only .003 percent to .07 percent due to savings from reduced turnover, training costs and having healthy, happy, hardworking and loyal employees. Sure, it’s going to cost us something. But this is about prioritizing. To consciously withhold just wages to our own advantage is to violate and oppress our cooks, servers and housekeepers. I’d love to know how we could replace them with machines, or even to cut down on the workforce. If we did, these jobs simply wouldn’t get done. I’d also love to see those people who claim a living wage will only hurt workers approach a custodian who works 17 hours a day at two jobs and tell him that a living wage would only hurt him.

The living wage question boils down to a question of our identity. Yes, we’re dedicated to learning as an institution, but we call ourselves Catholic, which is supposed to differentiate us. A living wage is Catholic; it’s justice, it’s humane. This is a true test of our Catholic mission. Are we Catholic or are we corporate? And if we as a Catholic university won’t implement the changes necessary to create a just world, who will?

Jackie ClarkfreshmanWelsh Family HallFeb. 24