Student movement fails to provide realistic solutions to help workers

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November 16, 2010

1:03 AM

A few weeks ago, I received a Facebook invitation to the “I Support a Living Wage for W&M Workers” group. Without accepting the invitation, I clicked on the link to find out a bit more about the organization. While, the info page of the group contends that, contrary to claims by the College of William and Mary administration, it is dedicated to “community service and collective well-being” it is, in reality, just the opposite. The organization is quick to point out that the majority of Residence Life housekeepers make $9 to $11 per hour, that workers who have been a part of the College community for over 20 years often make only $10 per hour and that numerous workers have not received a raise in the past four years. The organization also asserts that the living wage for an adult with one child is $18.49 per hour in Williamsburg. Many will ask, “How is that fair?” The truth is, however, that fairness has nothing to do with wages, nor should it. The two issues that should be considered when reviewing the current wages for the College workers are pragmatism and principle.

The College is a top-tier university, yet unlike a number of our peer universities, we are not fortunate enough to have an endowment of billions of dollars. We need to be careful with and smart about the allocation of our funds. The fact there are seven vacant housekeeping positions does not mean that the College’s administration is a group of malicious individuals that wants to overwork its staff. We do not actually know why those positions have not been filled, and there are a number of possible reasons including a lack of funding or a lack of applicants. Furthermore, if the jobs these individuals perform are only worth $9 to $11 per hour, paying them more money would lead to a depletion of university funds that would require cutting portions of college programs ranging from athletics to university facilities and equipment. Additionally, if ResLife workers begin to be paid more than the school can afford, other workers may begin to demand higher wages than their work deserves. Paying workers more than the tasks they perform are worth is a slippery slope to real financial trouble for the school.

More important than pragmatism, the matter of principle must be considered in this issue of supposed low wages. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution or Virginia state Constitution does it state that all men are or should be equal; these documents state only that all men are created equal and are equally free.

Opportunity for success, not success itself, is what every American is promised. Just because someone has been working somewhere for a long period of time does not mean that he or she is guaranteed higher pay. Moreover, it is ludicrous — and against the values of freedom — to assert that longevity of tenure demands a linear rate of promotions from employers. If someone has not deserved a promotion or if the value of his or her job does not leave room for a promotion, that individual — with all reason — should not receive a promotion.

The well-intentioned leaders of the “I Support a Living Wage for William & Mary Workers” group are terribly misguided in attacking the school administration and for believing that employees are entitled to higher wages. They are not, and it is frightening to see things such as the federal minimum wage soar by nearly 41 percent. These are the sort of notions that lead to the outsourcing of jobs and relocation of businesses. If the leaders of the College’s movement actually want to help support workers at the College, they would be smart to focus their efforts on charity-based fundraising rather than obtusely calling for impractical solutions.

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