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CLAP clarifies its position

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Editor’s Note: This column, written by Campus Labor Action Project organizers, is a response to several recent Viewpoint submissions. The Observer does not endorse CLAP, or any other organization. All viewpoints are welcome.

Due to our recent absence from the public eye, we, the members of the Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP), would like to clear the air on who we are and what we are doing. CLAP is a coalition of staff, faculty, community members, and students who seek to resolve a number of labor issues here at Notre Dame. Although we do support increased wages, we are not simply a living wage campaign. Far too many pressing concerns exist among University employees to limit ourselves to just that one issue.

The reason for our relative quietude last semester was that we recognized flaws in our past actions. Although well-intentioned, certain public actions were overly antagonistic and ultimately destructive rather than constructive. More importantly, we lacked the close relationships with campus employees that could bring legitimacy to our organization and its mission.

Last semester we concentrated on developing stronger ties with campus workers. These relationships now provide a solid foundation for our organization. Although we have acquainted ourselves with staff from various departments, our closest relationships are with Building Services and Food Services employees. These are the people who clean our dorms, classrooms, and offices, and prepare and serve our food whether in the dining halls, in LaFortune, or at one of the various cafés on campus.

In conversations with these workers, a number of issues came to our attention. First and foremost, the primary issue is respect. Workers tell us that they enjoy being around the students, faculty, and each other, and often happily note how appreciative we are of their work. However, they feel that their employer, the University and its administration, cares little about them and does not value their hard work.

Also, nearly every worker with whom we speak fears being fired or receiving some other reprimand from the University if he or she was to speak out. So, for now, it is our responsibility to tell their stories.

However, for many employees, the most immediate issue is wages. Anyone who believes that a family can be supported on $17,264 per year (the total annual pay of a Notre Dame employee making the base wage) has not tried to do so. CLAP believes that $12.10 per hour constituted a living wage in 2006. The 2007 number will be adjusted for inflation and included in our organization’s revised living wage report within the next month. The figure that we have chosen is not random. It comes from the line used by the federal government to determine one’s eligibility for food stamps and other subsidies. We believe that a living wage means not having to rely on government assistance or the local food bank in order to support a family.

Concerning the benefits provided by the University, staff members appreciate the benefits package but argue that subsidized health care and a college tuition benefit do not provide their families with housing, pay the bills, or put food on the table. These workers tell us that their raises, the maximum being three percent per year, do not even cover rising energy costs and health care premiums. In other words, in exchange for one more year of loyalty and service to our University, the “raises” given by Notre Dame lower their standard of living.

Other staff members point out that they incur injuries from being overworked. Each employee of Building Services is expected to clean 25,000 square feet of building space each shift. Many of them receive assignments that are far larger than this, and the added load takes a toll on their bodies. A number of custodians with whom we’ve spoken have had surgery on their shoulders or backs due to these job-related injuries and were expected to return to work two days later.

There is also an issue with part-time employees. The University has begun to replace retiring full-time employees with part-timers who work 30 to 35 hours per week. This saves the University money because it does not have to offer health care benefits to part-time employees. Instead, full-time employees are expected to pick up the extra hours of labor and must work mandatory overtime after already long days. Of course, such an arrangement also leaves the part-time employee with no health care insurance and a very tight budget.

As one can clearly observe, numerous labor-related issues exist on our campus. CLAP has chosen to focus primarily on wages because wages are the issue that arises most often in our interactions with University employees. By addressing the wage issue, we hope to raise the administration’s awareness concerning these other matters as well.

Finally, we would like to directly address several groups in our community:

To the administration, we believe that you want to be a good employer. The Campus Labor Action Project has invested countless hours into understanding the concerns of your employees, and we would like to share what we have learned with you. We hope that our working relationship can continue in order to make Notre Dame the best University that it can be.

To the student body, whether or not one supports a living wage is a personal decision that each of us makes based on our own interpretation of theology, economics and politics. We invite your dissenting opinions. They have sharpened our focus as an organization. We only ask that you appreciate and respect the important work that campus employees perform for our community and support them in their efforts to obtain fair compensation and working conditions.

Lastly and most importantly, to the employees of this University, we thank you for the hard work you perform to serve our community. We hear your concerns and will continue to address them as best we can. However, students cannot resolve these issues alone. For change to occur, you must overcome your fears and speak out on your own behalf. We stand beside you. We support you.

Stuart Mora

Campus Labor Action Project

Feb. 5