Livable Wage demanded

“Hey hey ho ho poverty wages have got to go!” shouted the 40 or so livable wage advocates as they marched through the halls of the Waterman building Friday afternoon to deliver a letter of demands to President Fogel.Participants at the rally included UVM students, faculty, staff, and community supporters who withstood Friday’s downpour on the steps of Waterman to listen to speeches and demands for the implementation of a livable wage at the University. The rally ended when participants came to an impasse at the locked doors of the president’s wing in Waterman. Sam Maron, an SGA senator, task force member and co-coordinator of SLAP, concluded by saying, “As we see, our administration is afraid of us,” and Kat Nopper, a co-coordinator of SLAP, slipped the slightly damp letter under the office door.The rally marked the formal completion of the Basic Needs and Equitable Compensation Task Force’s recommendations for the application of a livable wage at the University. Sam Maron described the rally as a “celebration of the task force and their recommendation.”There are no more excuses, now we are asking the administration to act on it and implement something,” Maron said. The task force was set up by Fogel last April in response to pressure from the UVM community to implement a livable wage policy for all university employees. The task force is made up of 19 members from various parts of the University: faculty, staff, administrators, and students. “It is an excellent report,” said Economics Professor Ross Thomsom who served on the task force as a member of United Academics. “It argues that the University needs to have a livable wage policy and defines livable wage in a good way. [The report] is a consensus document…our hope is that the president will accept the recommendations.” SGA President Seth Bowden, who also served on the task force, agreed. “I hope personally, and on the behalf of the SGA, that this policy is acted on,” said Bowden.It is unclear what the time frame is for the implementation of a University wide livable wage. Fogel, who had not yet read the report as of Sept. 28, said that he needs “time to read the report and think thoroughly” before he reconvenes with the task force. According to a president’s office source, Fogel is set to meet with the task force in late November.Information gathered at different public forums has been added as an attachment to the report. Fogel said he and his advisors “will take all of that input and respond empathetically and responsibly.”Jane Knodell, associate professor of economics and the chair of the task force, sited the ongoing United Electrical contract negotiations as the main factor that must be resolved before Fogel can make any concrete response to the task force recommendations. Knodell said that implementing a university wide livable wage policy before the UE finishes negotiating a new contract “would be unfair labor practice.” However, Carmyn Stanko, the president of 267 UE local, disagreed about UE negotiations being the hold up; “That’s what the line from the president’s office is… they could put everything into place except a specific dollar figure now.” The UE started negotiations for a new contract with the University in March and have not yet reached an agreement. UE members have been working without a contract since July, when the old contract expired. “We would like to see our contract settled now…to see that all our members are making livable wage and that all our members receive a good across the board raise that allows for inflation and to put some money in the bank,” Stanko said. Of the 256 workers at the University who receive a wage below the livable wage, 181 are represented by the UE, 2 by the Teamsters and 73 are not unionized according to the report. SLAP hopes to hear a response from Fogel by Nov. 3, when there will be another rally on the steps of Waterman, according to Maron. “It has been almost a year to the day since the livable wage campaign was kicked off, and there has been nothing but delay, delay, delay,” Maron said. The question remains of where the money to pay for the increase in wages will come from. “The task force was not asked to make recommendations about where the money to pay for a livable wage should come from,” Knodell said. “There are a fair number of options,” Knodell said. “My personal view is that it should be spread broadly and according to ability to pay across the entire community.”The report estimates the cost of implementing a livable wage policy at about $1 million. “This is not a huge amount of money we are talking about,” said Thomson, putting it in the context of the $240 million total University budget. SLAP has a more specific idea of where they would like to see the money come from, “What we would like to see, is the people in the highest bracket, mostly administrative, to take a little bit of a cut,” Maron said, although he also estimates that student tuition could take a $50/person increase to help share the cost. Although SLAP applauds the work of the task force he pointed out that “the recommendation only applies to directly employed workers, by excluding contracted workers we believe it does not go far enough,” Maron said, referring mainly to Sodexo employees.