It takes $12.23 an hour to lead a dignified life in Miami, according to Miami-Dade County’s official Living Wage. But the food service workers at our university make wages as low as $9.30. Many rely on public benefits to cover basic needs and still struggle to make ends meet.
Chartwells workers on campus fought last year for the right to negotiate a fair contract with their employer and to be represented by a union. They won, but Chartwells has offered such low yearly pay increases that they barely offset inflation. The offer would put workers below the poverty line for years to come. Thus, workers have decided to go on strike if Chartwells doesn’t improve its offer.
Even though the University of Miami controls the contract with Chartwells, UM has publicly denied any responsibility for fixing the situation. It would, however, be naive to believe that UM has no control over how much the workers on our campus are being paid. In 2006, UM set minimum wages for all employers on campus and promised to review those numbers on a yearly basis.
Our university has the moral responsibility to ensure that everybody who works for this community earns the means to lead a dignified life. UM is a proud institution of higher learning and needs to be held to the same high moral standards that are expected from students, faculty members and employees. So how is it not hypocritical to celebrate the luxurious $46 million student center while turning a blind eye on those who serve us daily?
The fact that our university saves money by paying workers starvation wages is a scandal. UM administrators might be able to keep the contract with Chartwells cheap by officially remaining neutral, but this means poverty for more than 300 members of the UM community.
In 2006, a similar situation escalated into a major campuswide strike. Nobody wants to see a repeat of those events, but chances are this will happen again. It’s in President Shalala’s hands to avoid another escalation by making sure workers make living wages.
Philipp Schwind is a graduate student in philosophy.