The Livable Wage Debate

Point: Fogel has failed the UniversitySAM MARONCO-COORDINATOR OF THE STUDENT LABOR ACTION PROJECT (SLAP)President Fogel has failed the University of Vermont. He has failed the students, the community, and most importantly, he has failed the workers.When I walked into the final meeting of the Basic Needs and Equitable Compensation task force (BNEC) on November 30, 2006, I was optimistic. I was frustrated that it had taken so long, but was happy with the Task Force recommendation and was prepared for some positive signs from Fogel and his administration. Instead, he stonewalled.In answering a question by professor Ross Thomson, Fogel said that he was taking no further action on livable wages.The task force was appointed to research and present a recommendation concerning low-wage workers. It did just that and came to the conclusion that all workers on campus should earn at least $12.28 an hour and that benefits should be maintained. The new contract for the service and maintenance workers establishes a wage floor of $10.60. This is not a livable wage!Fogel has denied, discounted, and discredited six months of hard work by the task force, and it is completely unacceptable. It is disgusting that he can walk into a room of faculty, administrators, staff, students and community members and tell them that all of their work was in vain. It is disgusting that he wants to continue telling the lowest-paid workers that they should be happy that they have a job at the great institution of UVM. Itis disgusting that Fogel is willing to let workers continue to live in poverty on our campus.As a student, I want to know that the people making this school run are respected. Right now they are not, and I am angry. A livable wage is a basic human right. If you work a full time job, you deserve at least enough to meet all of your basic needs. Workers can’t eat prestige!President Fogel has failed the University of Vermont, and he should be ashamed of himself. He had an opportunity to bring UVM out on top, and instead he has left us at thebottom.This wrong must be righted, injustice cannot be allowed to continue at UVM. PresidentFogel, reverse your shameful decision to deny workers, and implement a real livable wage policy now!Counter-Point: Task Force falls short of solutionsSHANE CLARKOPINION EDITORIt took me four years as a line cook to finally earn the equivalent of the wage floor at UVM ($10.60) and I didn’t get any benefits. Where was the international tribunal onhuman rights to correct this wrong for my co-workers and me? No one set up a task force for me.Before we start villainizing President Fogel as greedy and insensitive to the tragedy of the capitalist system, we ought to at least approach community issues from a holistic perspective.The Basic Needs and Equitable Compensation Task Force (BNEC) bases all of its recommendations on what they call “the basic needs principle.” The BNEC believes that “basic needs” should “trump market forces,” according to its final report, which is just acoded way of recommending that a higher minimum wage should trade off with a less comprehensive health care plan. Keep in mind that humans do not necessarily need money to fulfill their “basic” survival needs (humans are generally equipped to survive in a state of nature). There are plenty of people in this world that manage to live long lives without having the consumptive life style Americans have come to take for granted. Money helps provide a comfortable existence, but there are many frivolous allocations that have gone into the calculation of livable wages.The BNEC suggests that a person “needs,” $68 a month for personal expenses. I’ve noticed that many UVM and Sodexho employees smoke cigarettes. Affording a $6 a dayhabit is a behavior that, to me, indicates that their wages are at least sufficient for survival – if they can afford to throw their money away on an indulgence that is going to kill them.The BNEC recommends that: “a smaller wage floor increase could be traded off against areduction in the employee cost of the health insurance.” Given the cost of treating lung and throat cancer, Fogel is probably doing the employees that are smokers a favor by rejecting the recommendations of the task force.The BNEC further recommends that a “basic needs” budget would provide $638 a month for housing based upon projections for a single person (they don’t even offer a solution for employees with families to support). I’m a single person and I’ve managed to be a full-time student and support myself by spending less than half of that on housing. Livable wage figures are at best arbitrary, and at worst justify the notion that Americans are entitled to a standard of living that much of the rest of the world considers decadentand wasteful. Since when do “basic needs” include stipends that provide monthly allowances for cell phones, clothing and cigarettes? Raising the minimum wage a few dollars will do little more than raise inflation rates, and will certainly not correct the inequities of capitalism. The richest 10 percent of the population controls 90 percent of the wealth and there is nothing that any Universitytask force can do to fix that inequity. And like it or not, it’s not Fogel’s fault.We cannot blame Fogel for having a federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour in a country that promotes a consumer lifestyle. Workers that are low in thecapitalist hierarchy (Marx and Engels called them the proletariat) may not be able to afford a car, mortgage, night at the movies, gourmet meals or the platinum cable package, but these are not inalienable human rights.Do we really want to believe that the wisdom of a task force can make monetary quantifications that indicate with a dollar sign which lives are “livable”?If we are talking about human rights, we should really be talking about our right to the freedom of choice, possibly the most coveted human right in any liberal democracy. More often than not, it is the choices that people make that determine their standard of living, be it day to day or 10 years down the road.When people make the wrong choices they don’t necessarily have the right to a pay raise that will fulfill their conception of what is a comfortable life in America.