By Margarita MartIn-Hidalgo
Hurricane Staff Writer
A UM faculty senate committee has started to draft a proposal to develop a living wage policy for contractors hired by the university, UM employees and possibly UM student employees.
The ad hoc Committee for the Status of UNICCO Employees will determine which companies providing labor, services, and goods to the university would fall under a proposed UM living wage policy, said Jane Connolly, the committee’s chair. The proposed living wage standard would be the same as that of Miami-Dade County.
The senators’ policy will include UNICCO Services Company, the UM maintenance provider, and Chartwells, the firm that oversees the dining services, Connolly said. Follett, the company that manages the bookstore, and Fifty States, the security company, could fall under that provision, Connolly said.
It would also include UM employees and may include UM student employees, Connolly.
Connolly and six other faculty members formed the committee in late August to review salary ranges of UNICCO and Chartwells employees. The senators formed the panel after reading a report that showed UNICCO workers at UM earned less than a federal standard for the 1999-2000 academic year. The government standard for a family of three for the year 2000 was $14,150. The average UNICCO employee at UM earned $13,120—$1,030 below the mandated limit.
According to the report, UM was the second-lowest paying university in the country for that year. It trailed behind Tennessee State University, where the average worker earned $13,000 for that same period.
The faculty senate submitted a set of recommendations based on their investigation to President Donna Shalala on Oct. 26. One of the proposals asked the university to establish a committee of students, faculty members and administrators to consider the adoption of living wage policy, said law professor Michael Fischl, a senator on the committee. They committee also asked the administration to renegotiate the contracts with UNICCO and Chartwells to immediately raise the salaries of their workers by $1.25. The purpose of the second provision was “to enable Chartwells and UNICCO employees to have the benefit of health care coverage immediately.”
Chartwells and UNICCO have optional health care plans, but without the raise many employees would not be able to afford those plans, Fischl said.
“I think it is a very good idea,” said Jorge Lozano a UNICCO janitor. “The pay is very low here and the health care insurance is very high.”
Last week Shalala asked Steven Green, the senate chair, to ask the ad hoc committee to determine which companies would fall under the proposed living wage provision, Connolly said. Connolly said she believes Shalala decided against forming a new committee because she wants to see a quick resolution to the matter.
The group would have preferred to have administrators on their team because they are privy to contact information, Connolly said.
“But I’m not in principle against bypassing that if it gets the living wage for these workers,” she said. “My biggest thing is to get this done for the workers.”
Shalala was away this weekend at the football game against Boston and was not available for comment.
“We see the proposal as a step in the right direction and we hope action is taken,” said Allegra Cira, member of the recently-formed student group Coalition for a Living Wage at UM.
“But we will continue our own efforts to inform the campus about the importance of a living wage and to begin to pressure the university to adopt a living wage,” she added.
Michael Fischl, a law professor at the UM Law School, said it is “wonderful” to see students have taken an interest in the issue.
“The conventional wisdom today is that students don’t care about political issues,” Fischl said. “As the master at Pearson Residential College, I’ve never seen a group of students who care more about community service and charity and taking care of folks less fortunate than they.”
“What’s neat about this issue is that it sort-of bridges the gap between community service and politics,” added Fischl who teaches labor and contract law.
Fischl said he hopes “the folks who provide essential services on this campus for the rest of us are paid a living wage. I have great faith that president Shalala is giving the proposal a very fair hearing.”
Fischl said raising the salaries of low-wage workers to a living wage could have staggering consequences to the university, such as an increase in student tuition, parking fees or pay cuts of professors’ salaries. But Fischl said he is willing to pay the price.
“Would I favor a solution that required a broadly shared sacrifice among other groups on campus….in order to enable us to pay these folks a living wage? You bet I would,” he said.
By Margarita MartIn-Hidalgo