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Group develops tool to determine just wage for workers, employers

| Monday, November 11, 2019

What makes a wage just or unjust?

The Just Wage Working Group is working to spark dialogue around this question through the development of the Just Wage Tool and Framework, a Higgins Labor Studies Program initiative through the Center for Social Concerns.

The web tool was released on Friday, and is currently available through the Just Wage Working Group’s website. It allows users to check boxes to determine, according to seven criteria, how just a wage is. Though this tool has only recently been developed, the Just Wage Project was initiated in 2016 by Dan Graff, director of the Higgins Labor Program and a professor in the History Department, and his colleague Clemens Sedmak, professor of social ethics in the Keough School of Global Affairs and concurrent professor at Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns.

“[Sedmak and] I gathered faculty and students from various disciplines on campus (management, economics, sociology, law, history, etc.) to pursue the question: What makes any given wage just or unjust?” Graff said in an email.

 This pursuit led to their development of the “Just Wage Framework” on which the tool is based.

“We came up with a just wage framework of seven interconnected criteria that, to us, define a just wage, and we created a related online tool for stakeholders — whether professors, policymakers or practitioners — to use,” Graff said. “The criteria are as follows: a just wage affords a decent life to a worker and the worker’s household; a just wage promotes asset building; a just wage provides social security; a just wage is inclusive and non-discriminatory; a just wage is not excessive; a just wage is informed by workers’ participation in its creation; a just wage reflects performance, qualification and type of work.”

The tool is not intended to calculate an exact value of what constitutes a just wage, Graff said, but rather to provide an idea of how well a wage satisfies the seven criteria of a just wage.

“Importantly, once a person uses the tool, checking on a sliding scale of 1-5 the importance or satisfaction of every indicator in all the criteria, the result will show not a dollar figure or a point total, but a hexagon of seven honeycombs representing the criteria, each one shaded more gold the higher the scale that’s met,” Graff said. “There will also be suggestions for resources to learn more about any criteria that are being less met.”

Senior Anna Scartz, a student assistant for the Higgins Labor Program, described the tool’s purpose in an email. 

“This is designed so that people can evaluate if their wage is just in accordance to their needs and Catholic Social Teaching,” Scartz said. “It will not give a numeric value, but speaks to the overall needs and human dignity of the worker. … It can start the conversation for what each party is looking for.”

The tool is designed for use by both employers and employees, Graff said.

“An employer or entrepreneur might measure her pay and benefits package or proposed employment policy against our tool,” he said. “A union activist or parish advocate might discover ways to measure a community’s jobs profile or ideas for building a campaign; a policymaker might consult the tool before proposing legislation.” 

A major goal of the tool, Graff asserted, is to raise awareness of growing income inequality.

“We look around and see so many people working full time (in one, two, or even three jobs) and barely being able to make ends meet, while we also see the number of billionaires and millionaires increasing — so we wanted to contribute to a conversation that asks, ‘Why is this happening?’ as well as look for ways to promote a fairer and more equitable division of the economic pie,” Graff said.

Kevin Christiano, an associate professor of sociology and a faculty affiliate of the Higgins Labor Studies Program, said in an email the tool is meant to impact many communities.

“The tool is intended to reach far beyond the Notre Dame campus — to businesses, labor unions, schools, churches and numerous other institutions,” Christiano said. 

The Just Wage Working Group invites those interested to attend the official unveiling of the tool on Nov. 15 at 12:30 p.m. in the Geddes Hall coffeehouse.

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