Living Wages. It’s a phrase that’s been loosely thrown around campus since the beginning of the school year. The aggressive, student-run Living Wage Coalition posted signs demanding “Living wages now!” and accused College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley of saying “No to living wages.” The Coalition recently hosted a Week of Action, culminating in a rally and march to the President’s House. Everyone seems to have a stance on this issue, but how many people really know the facts?
A living wage is defined as the salary needed to meet the basic necessities of life, healthcare, food, childcare and housing. In Williamsburg, the living wage is $18.29 per hour, but 75 percent of housekeepers at the College make less than $10.57 per hour.
Over the past four years, there have been no pay raises for Virginia state employees. For five of the past 10 years, no College employees — support staff, faculty or administrators — received any form of pay raise with their state regulated paycheck.
As a rule, whenever the College issues a wage increase to a single employee, it must issue a similar increase to all employees. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to raise wages solely for the housekeeping staff. All college employees experience the effects of this decrease in pay in rea, but those at the lower end of the pay scale feel the blow sharpest.
This December, all salaried College employees will receive a 3 percent bonus from the state. However, President Reveley has extended this one-time bonus to all College employees. Currently, less than 12 percent of the College’s funding is derived from state sources, leading to extreme fundraising efforts. Although the College raised a record amount of money this past fiscal year and made significant increases in out-of-state tuition, these new funds do not get allocated toward pay raises. Administrators and students alike agree that the College’s current financial model isn’t working.
Contrary to popular belief, the administration insists it is not resisting the Living Wage Coalition. It claims that it would be happy to increase employee salaries, if only the state would provide more money. But it’s hard to fully believe these claims when the student movement to increase wages for the College’s support staff has been ongoing for over 10 years.
Many choose to come to the College because of its intimate, community feel. Admissions officers brag about how students at the College can develop close relationships with professors. It’s nearly impossible to walk across campus without seeing 10 people you know. We are a community of trust. At a school that prides itself on being such a community, we should treat all our members with equal dignity and respect.
Every morning when I wake up, I can count on two things. First, I will trip when climbing out of my lofted bed. Second, when I amble down the hallways, the Barrett Hall housekeepers, John and Valerie, will greet me with a big smile and a “Good morning, baby! How are you doing?” When I broke my elbow at the beginning of the school year, Valerie constantly checked to see if I needed any help and made sure I was doing okay. She took care of me as if I were her own child.
Yes, it may be difficult to properly re-allocate funds in a way that all employees at the College will receive a pay raise. However, we are a community full of bright, talented people and creative resources. It may not be the best time economically, but when will it ever be? Our housekeepers are a part of the College community, our family away from home. It’s time to find a way so that those who take care of us like family have enough money to properly take care of their own families.