UVM’s glaring flaw

The University of Vermont exploits its workers.We are violating their fundamental human right to earnenough to support themselves and their families. By denyingthis, we force the people that make this campus run to live inpoverty.This injustice is not only felt by the workers but permeates tothe rest of the UVM community. When we are supposed to be amodel for Vermont and the world, we are being hypocritical bypreaching social responsibility while not living up to our rhetoric.This University has a moral and ethical obligation to pay a livable wage to all of its employees. This came to the forefrontduring the fall semester of 2005 when a resolution in support of livable wages was introduced, researched, and unanimouslypassed by the Student Government Association Senate.At the same time, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) began ramping up efforts to get the administration to actually listen to the students. In the spring semester of 2006, SLAP decided that the campaign needed to proceed to the next level. The urgency was so great that we knew we had to act and act fast.We began educating the campus and spreading awareness about livable wages and why it is so necessary that UVM adoptthem.We kept ramping up, after several weeks of action, as well as continued talking with the administration; we held a tentcity on the green in front of Waterman to protest the inaction and unwillingness to talk seriously with us.An outpouring of support came in from the campus and Burlington communities. The tent-city was broken up Fridaynight by excessive force from both UVM and Burlington police(who have no authority on the UVM campus), under the direction of the administration.The University, one that so publicly announces its commitmentto free speech and freedom of expression, forcibly broke upthis nonviolent, peaceful demonstration only because of our public message broadcasting this inconvenient truth.As a direct result of the tentcity and SLAP’s actions, President Fogel created the Basic Needs and Equitable Compensation Task Force to research the issue and make a recommendation. I serve on the task force. Since the end of last semester, we have worked to identify the problem and figure a way to solve it.The result has been the creation of a preliminary report withthe recommendation of establishing a wage floor for all directlyemployed UVM workers to just over 12 dollars an hour, plus benefits. This livable wage figure was calculated using UVM information, and methodology from the State of VT’s Joint Fiscal Office reports on Basic Needs Budgets.The recommendation is due on September 30th. Before thiscan happen, there is a public comment period to collect information on how the UVM community feels about the issue and the report.There is one major flaw with the task force and the recommendation: it does not apply to contracted workers who work on our campus.The largest group includes the two hundred UniversityDining Services employees working for Sodexho. There are anumber of other services on campus that are contracted as well. If we do not address the issue we have only solved part of the problem. We cannot say that some workers deserve a livable wage and others do not.Many of these contracted workers are in a much more diresituation where they are forced to work several jobs and constantly in fear of where their next pay check is coming from. UVM is in a unique position to influence the wages paid by our contractors and we must address the situation.The University of Vermont prides itself in being a worldleader in environmental and social justice. We must applaudthe effort but cannot sit idly by while workers around us struggle to survive.We are the model that every UVM student looks up to, andthat the entire state of Vermont looks up to. If we exploit ourworkers we are being a negative role model for the world..Regardless of our other contributions, they are moot if wecannot do something so basic as giving our workers enough to get by. Even worse is that we are not living up to our own stated goals of social justice.The task force recommendation is very exciting as it is amajor first step towards ending this greatest of injustices, and Iam very happy with the direction it is moving. But it doesn’t go far enough. We students must gather together as we did last semester and demand that UVM pay all of its workers a livable wage. We can do no less.