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LWC holds panel for campus community

Samuel Casey

News Editor

On Thursday, April 4, the Living Wage Campaign (LWC) held a panel  in the Lowry Pit for the campus community to learn about the different aspects of the living wage and to engage in a dialogue with members of the College’s faculty, administration and students. The panel was moderated by Gabe Melmed ’21 and included President Sarah Bolton, Vice President for Business & Finance Charles Ingram, Vice President for Advancement Wayne Webster, Chair and Associate Professor of Economics Amyaz Moledina, Professor of Sociology Tom Tierney and former President of the Student Government Association (SGA) Monét Davis ’19.

Bolton started the event by presenting a PowerPoint featuring several graphs depicting the College’s resources, revenue from tuition and the budget for fiscal year 2019. According to Bolton’s presentation, “[The administration] wants Wooster to be a good place to work and learn [and] we need to offer salaries at least in the range of what a similar job would offer elsewhere.”

“The biggest way that Wooster spends money is on salary and benefits,” Bolton said. “But our total resources that we have to spend every year are not increasing from one year to the next … We have to ask, ‘where do we shrink?’ so we can make a balanced budget.”

The President was followed by Davis, who asked the audience to raise their hand if they attended a LWC event or have written a letter to the administration or Board of Trustees. 

“Have our lives been changed because of the hourly staff?” Davis asked. “I know students feel conflicted being a part of a community that does not treat all its workers fairly.”

Moledina analyzed the living wage from an economic standpoint. He said that there is both “empirical and theoretical research” that shows that at the firm level, paying above the equilibrium shows unique working effects; workers start investing in their health, make responsible choices, productivity increases and turnover decreases. The College sets the wage in this area because it is a “monopsony,” (antonym of monopoly) so if it is not paying sufficient wages, there would be high labor turnover, which Moledina said there is currently evidence present.

After the panel turned into a question and answer format, Ingram broke down the compensation allocation: faculty account for approximately $15 million of the salary/benefit budget, salaried staff for $13 million, hourly staff for $10.1 million and student workers for $1.7 million.

Bolton addressed the added struggle of appropriately accounting for raises that staff have received for working at the College for a long time. The living wage would be the lowest guaranteed wage, but adjustments would have to be made for those who currently make above the current $11.00 per hour to avoid decompression.

After Bolton stated that she wishes the College could pay a living wage, Marco Roccato ’20 asked if there were any concrete plans.

“A lot of the talk is ‘I wish I could pay a living wage,’” Roccato said. “We wished we could get the Scot Center and we got it. We wished we could get the Williams [Hall of Life Sciences] building and we got it. So if you’re wishing for a living wage, how are we going to get that wish into a reality?”

Webster explained that while many alumni give donations to the College, they are already earmarked for projects that were important to that individual during their time or scholarships that will allow students to come to Wooster. When a student raised a question about creating an endowment for the staff, Ingram said that one could be created with a minimum of $50,000, which the Voice understands was communicated to the LWC by the Vice President for Advancement, Wayne Webster, last semester.

Bolton and Ingram both said that raising the lowest wage is a priority for next year because this past year they focused on a new system where those that make the highest wage pay more for healthcare in order to subsidize healthcare for those that make the lowest wage. According to Ingram, there will be a shift differential put in place to make it easier on workers who have shifts late at night, which should help with staff retention.

Robyn Newcomb ’20, co-president of LWC, is currently studying abroad but watched a recorded video of the discussion.

“Watching the footage of the event, I was thrilled to hear the types of questions so many students were asking: informed, grounded, nuanced and persistent,” Newcomb said. “It’s clear to me both that the core members of LWC have done an extraordinary job educating the broader campus on a complex issue and that the campaign truly has surged from the niche perspective of a handful of students to a genuine campus-wide demand.”

Davis was also pleased with the event and told students the importance of holding both the administration and student governments accountable.

“I would like to encourage everyone to get involved and to put pressure on people who are in [organizations] like SGA and Campus Council,” Davis concluded.

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