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Groups wage campus labor debates

Karen Langley | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Almost two weeks after Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves issued a statement firmly backing current University wage policies, on Monday members of the Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP) reiterated their demands – a $12.10 per hour wage for campus workers and the formation of a task force to address campus labor conditions.

Their statement, made Monday morning at a press conference in front of LaFortune, also called for further response from University administrators.

CLAP members plan to occupy University President Father John Jenkins’ office this morning in an effort to meet with Jenkins and present him with petitions signed by more than 1,300 workers, alumni, faculty, students and parents who support CLAP’s demands. The sit-in is scheduled to last an hour.

“[The administration] is going to have to address our concerns,” said Nick Krafft, CLAP organizing member. “We’re demanding real dialogue.”

While he said the group has no “hard deadline,” Krafft said a lack of action from the administration would force the group to “take more drastic measure.”

CLAP originally called for these two changes March 8 when members presented Jenkins with a report on the living wage – defined by the report as “the hourly rate of income that a worker in a specific area must make in a 40-hour workweek to support a family of four.”

Jenkins and other top administrators, including Affleck-Graves, met with CLAP members March 31 to discuss the administration’s response to the report. In his April 19 statement, Affleck-Graves backed existing University policies, saying they provide a “fair and just” wage for employees.

In the Monday press conference, three CLAP members – two of whom were student body senators for the 2005-06 term – as well as one current and one former campus employee spoke in defense of the proposal.

CLAP organizing member and former Lewis senator Katie McHugh reiterated the group’s proposal of a $25,164 yearly wage. At 130 percent of the poverty line for a family of four, she called the figure “conservative” and explained that a person with wages of 125 percent of the poverty line qualifies for food stamps.

“We are a Catholic university, not a corporation,” McHugh said. “Currently, Notre Dame pays a poverty wage.”

Former University clerical employee Julie Ferraro contested the administration’s assertion that employees are paid a fair wage. The lack of local jobs paying a living wage precludes the market wage from being a fair indicator of what University employees should be paid, she said.

Ferraro also argued against Affleck-Graves’ statement that employee benefits make up the difference between actual wages and the area living wage.

“No amount of access to recreational facilities, [nor] the prospect of sending one’s children here for their college education at no cost” enables employees to pay for essentials such as rent, utilities and food, she said.

Krafft emphasized the need for an objective taskforce, citing the example of the Harvard Living Wage Campaign and Harvard University’s subsequent raise in employee wages.

He said the structures currently in place to address workers’ needs – the Office of Institutional Equity and the Staff Advisory Council (SAC) – are inadequate to address the issues and incapable of examining them objectively.

The task force – comprised of workers, students, administrators, faculty and alumni – would examine labor issues including working conditions, treatment and wages, Krafft said. It would then make recommendations to Jenkins, Affleck-Graves and Director of Human Resources Robert McQuade, “who would act on these recommendations in good faith.”

North Dining Hall supervisor Janice Owens said she has received support and thanks from other employees so frightened of retribution that they hide in “crooks and crannies” to speak with her.

In his statement, Affleck-Graves said CLAP’s assertion that workers “fear reprisal” if they speak out against their wage and conditions was “deeply disturbing.”

Owens drew from personal experience as a SAC member to express strong dissatisfaction with SAC as a venue for dialogue between employees and the University.

“I saw it as a means for the administration to tell us what they wanted us to know,” she said. “But it never went the other way. We never had the opportunity to discuss [concerns].”

Brian Klein, CLAP organizing member and former Morrissey senator, said CLAP has been thus far disappointed in its attempts to engage the administration in real dialogue.

“Administrators have categorically dismissed our claims and concerns [and] have called us inappropriate, arrogant and presumptuous for speaking out on [the] workers’ behalf,” he said.