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Proposal for more fair compensation of University employees garners faculty, student support

| Wednesday, April 20, 2022

In an open letter directed to University administrators, 110 members of Notre Dame faculty supported a proposal regarding compensation policies and “[demanded] the University engage in good faith negotiations on this proposal and offer a public response regarding its decision.” An online petition on the same topic received more than 500 student and alumni signatures.

The open letter and petition are both in support of a proposal entitled “Formal Submission to the University of Notre Dame Recommending Compensation and Labor Policies That Reduce Economic Hardship,” was submitted by the Raising the Standard Campaign (RSC.) 

Junior Edward Brunicardi from Baumer Hall and sophomore Bridget Schippers from Welsh Family Hall are co-directors of the campaign. Both students spent the semester participating in the Washington Program studying in D.C.

Brunicardi and Schippers said the project originated with the help of program of liberal studies (PLS) and psychology professor Clark Power

“[Power] had spoken to a worker on campus before about how much they were really struggling right now and had just heard how things were difficult with the current wage that they were making from the University,” Schippers said.

They explained that Power reached out to Brunicardi to see if students might mobilize alongside faculty discussions and efforts that were taking place.

Since then, the RSC’s team of eight students has worked to develop a proposal by talking with workers on campus and researching the situation at Notre Dame and in South Bend. 

“The number that gave us the drive to begin this movement was the fact that 23% of South Bend is in poverty, and Notre Dame’s endowment grew by $7 billion last year,” Brunicardi said. “Keep in mind that Notre Dame is the biggest employer in South Bend.”

The proposal calls on the University to increase student wages to $15 an hour, institute a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for all workers and to create a just wages and fair employment board. Additionally, the RSC calls on Notre Dame to enhance educational benefits, revisit retirement benefits and prioritize contracting companies that pay their workers a ‘living wage.’ They also want the University to annually celebrate Employee Appreciation Week.

In an email to The Observer, university spokesman Dennis Brown discussed the University’s stance on how they treat their employees.

“The University is proud of how it works together with its employees and is especially proud of the supportive steps we have taken throughout the pandemic. In addition to health and welfare precautions, this support was perhaps most evident in the swift, substantial and positive adjustments to compensation and benefits,” Brown said in his email. 

Brown emphasized that the University recently increased the minimum wage for all workers.

“Earlier this month, the University provided substantial appreciation bonuses to full-time and part-time employees. As always, we will continue to reevaluate our total rewards package and make adjustments where they are needed,” he said via email.

The University’s new starting minimum wages are set at $15 per hour for non-exempt staff and $11 per hour for student workers.

Brunicardi and Schippers argue that these steps are not enough.

“We always want to be applauding whenever the University does things that are good, but I think it’s important to realize that we’re still not entirely sure that the $15 minimum wage that they’ve announced for non-exempt employees is actually a living wage for people in the South Bend area,” Brunicardi said.

He also pointed out that businesses near campus like Culver’s, Notre Dame Federal Credit Union and various grocery stores offer a higher wage. Brunicardi said many of those low-income students do not have cars to go off campus and earn more than the University pays.

The RSC also takes issue with the different wage categorization of student workers, with a minimum wage $4 less than a non-student worker that could be doing the same work.

“If you’re a low income student, especially working the same job as someone who’s an adult employee, you’re getting $11 and they’re getting $15, you have to ask yourself ‘why am I being paid differently for the same job?’” Brunicardi said. “The only answer that I can think of is that Notre Dame is simply taking advantage of the convenience of having people on campus.”

The RSC makes reference to Catholic Social Teaching (CST) in its proposal. Schipper explained this was important to the group because they wanted to ensure the University’s Catholic mission is reflected in the treatment of its employees. 

“We have to make sure that the wage that we are offering to people is reflective of our values. In CST, there are papal encyclicals that are on the dignity of work, and the onus that goes on the employer to make sure they are respecting the dignity of the individual in the wage that they give them,” Schippers said.

The proposal also emphasized the importance of non-student workers and their challenges in the South Bend area. Schippers said that in meetings, Notre Dame has argued that their wage reflects market wage, but that given the University’s employment dominance in the area, she believes the university plays a role in setting the market wage, and should not simply follow it.

“Non-student workers should be listened to already as part of the process.They are an important part of the Notre Dame family and we need to actually recognize them as such by including them in conversations along the way,” Schippers said.

The RSC will continue its advocacy in the fall and hopes to enlist more student support, Schippers noted. 

“We’ve already done a lot of research, and we’re going to be focusing a lot more of our efforts on advocacy on campus,” Schippers said. ”Our goal going into this fall is actualizing those changes.” 

Brunicardi said the issue will continue to be a central focus for him because of the project’s significance.

“This is a campus-wide thing. This involves student workers.This involves adult workers. This involves every part of our campus, the faith community especially,” he said.

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About Isa Sheikh

Isa Sheikh is a first-year in Stanford Hall and serves as associate news editor. A history and political science major hailing from Sacramento, he enjoys reading The Observer on the 11th floor of Hes, sipping Cinderblock Coffee in the morning, and re-reading the same Didion essays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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