While aldermen in Chicago deliberate a proposed living wage ordinance, a coalition of students, faculty, and labor organization are fighting their own battle up the road in Evanston.
We're still waiting to see if the Chicago City Council will vote on a proposed living-wage ordinance that could lift wages at companies that benefit from public subsidies. While aldermen deliberate, a coalition of students, faculty, and labor organization are fighting their own battle up the road in Evanston.
Yesterday, 300 supporters affiliated with the Northwestern Living Wage Campaign gathered in the cold on Northwestern University's campus to demand that the school's sub-contract workers be paid a living wage. Most of the school's food service and janitorial employees are employed by Sodexo, one of the nation's largest contracted food and facilities companies. According to the coalition, workers on campus earn between $9 and $11 per hour, well below the state's self-sufficiency standard developed last fall by researchers at the Social Impact Research Center. In response, organizers have written a "Just Employment Policy" they want the university to adopt. If approved, minimum compensation for all fill-time contract workers would jump to $13.23 per hour for worker with health care benefits and $14.67 per hour for those without. At the rally yesterday, supporters said the school could easily pay for the wage increase if it altered its priorities:
Adopting the employment policy, according to Northwestern officials, would cost between $3.3 and $4 million annually. They also claim that funding for residence halls and dining services would need to come from room and board fees or tuition, costing students an additional $400 to $500 per year. Campaign members say that with some flexible accounting, the school could reroute a tiny portion of the school's massive endowment (which took a hit during the recession but currently stands at $6 billion) to cover the costs. There's precedent for their efforts; in 2005, students at Georgetown University won a similar fight after staging a dramatic nine-day hunger strike.
"A fair living wage is not a privilege," said campus cook Rafael Marquez, "but a necessity."