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CLAP calls for fair wages

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, September 7, 2006

It seems that a lot of the sentiment on this campus against a living wage has been raised in the best interest of workers. Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP) also has the best interest of workers in mind and in heart, and based on a number of meticulous studies, it finds only benefits from the living wage. With regard to Jonathan Klingler’s column (“Beyond the living wage,” Sept. 5), CLAP maintains its stance that a living wage based on the Federal Benefits line will be beneficial to Notre Dame’s workers. First, the methodology of the $12.10 has been called into question on the basis that families of four often have other sources of income. Regardless, the federal government, acknowledging that many workers have such a situation, has decided that $12.10 with benefits is the maximum a worker can make and still be food stamp eligible. Is it acceptable to be paying workers wages below this standard, or is it Notre Dame’s responsibilty to ensure that full time workers are able to meet their basic needs?

As for the critique on the living wage policy in general, let us first say it is presumptuous and unfounded to say that the workforce will be “gentrified” and will lead to fewer jobs for low-income workers. In fact, the labor market is not so sensitive to changes in wages, as noted in a study by the Economic Policy Institute: “A recent EPI study of the effects of the 1996-97 minimum wage increase, for example, found no evidence of job loss among teenagers and adult workers with less than a high-school education (two groups of workers that typically have lower skill levels).” However, the EPI notes, no studies have provided evidence to the contrary. As for the idea that the job market would shrink and create unemployment, studies conducted on Boston’s and on Baltimore’s living wage ordinances “have found no evidence of diminished employment” (Thompson and Chapman, 2006). Lastly, the living wage has proven to help companies and communities because it creates less turnover within jobs and thus fosters productivity.

As an alternative solution, the columnist calls for computer and business classes for the employees, in order to increase their skills and make them eligible for a better-paying job. In fact, Notre Dame already offers some educational courses for its employees, and for this, CLAP gratefully applauds the University. However, this training for a better job is not a solution to the low wages we pay, because once a worker moves on, another person will fill her/his spot at Notre Dame and earn the low wages.

Ultimately, the columnist notes that, “the University should revisit its pay scale and investigate methods of ensuring that all employees of the University are able to have fair wages determined on an individual basis.” CLAP fully agrees with this statement. Wages for lower paid workers have been falling for several decades and we believe it is time to stop this race to the bottom with the implementation of the higher standard of a living wage. Since its inaugural assembly last September, CLAP has called for a task force of workers, students, faculty and administration to examine this issue. We still stand by this demand and will not rest until just policies are rendered.

Campus Labor Action Project

Sept. 6