As their chants made clear, the Tidewater Labor Support Committee wants living wages for College of William and Mary housekeepers, and it wants them now.
Approximately 75 people gathered at the Crim Dell Amphitheater Thursday afternoon to participate in the TLSC Living Wage Campaign’s Rally to Restore Sanity on Campus. Students, housekeepers and professors signed pledge cards signifying their commitment “to finding solutions so that all campus workers can meet their basic needs” before marching through the Wren Building to present one to College President Taylor Reveley. Reveley, however, declined to sign it.
“I’m not going to sign a pledge,” he said. “I don’t sign pledges about virtually anything.”
The demonstration, named for the recent Jon Stewart ’84 rally in Washington, D.C., was the culmination of a week of action TLSC organized to coordinate with the United Students Against Sweatshops National Campus Worker Appreciation Week. Earlier events included T-shirt decorating, a worker-student dance party and a brunch held for housekeepers.
According to Living Wage Campaign member Maria-Emilia Borja ’11, the rally and preceding events were designed to raise awareness about the salaries of the College’s cleaning staff, which TLSC asserts are too low to meet their costs of living.
“We want a wage sufficient enough to cover the basic needs a human being has, including transportation, healthcare, childcare and groceries,” Borja said. “These are necessities, and these are things they are not able to have. We’re here to ask for something that’s basic for any human being.”
Two members of the College’s housekeeping staff were present at the rally. According to Living Wage Campaign member Nicole Brown ’13, many of the workers could not be present because they work two jobs each day.
“We’re fighting for them,” Brown said. “We want people from the campus and the community to be here to show support for the workers when they can’t be here.”
An 11-year employee of the College, Aretha McMiller, addressed the crowd.
“I work in the summer, where we work to make a clean, safe environment so you all will be able to survive,” she said. “They still turn their backs. They have it in the budget. They can do something to show they appreciate all of us.”
Two professors also spoke. Sociology professor Jennifer Mendez noted the irony of teaching students to care about labor struggles in the global economy while workers fight for justice in Williamsburg. History professor Cindy Hahamovitch asserted that all College employees deserve raises.
“There is no one getting rich on this campus,” Hahamovitch said. “We are generally low paid; faculty salaries are way below our peer schools. Why fixate on the housekeepers? No one should work all day on this campus and go home to work another job.”
According to Hahamovitch, the current economic recession and the College’s budget strain should not delay the implementation of wage increases.
“These are hard times, there is no doubt about it,” Hahamovitch said. “Justice cannot wait. There is not a wrong time to do the right thing.”
The rally’s final speaker was Max Blalock, a Methodist minister with the College’s branch of the Wesley Foundation.
“I support what the living wage coalition is doing, especially in the sense of building community across all aspects of the campus,” he said.
Following the speeches, the demonstrators marched across campus, chanting and playing percussion instruments. Reveley was waiting behind the Wren Building. Arielle Pak ’13 presented him with the pledge card and asked for his signature. Reveley said that while he understood the Living Wage Campaign’s position, he would not sign.
“I recognize the legitimacy, and we will take it into account very seriously,” he said. “What we need at William and Mary is more money for salaries for everyone. I’d really like to be able to respond to people’s strong views, [but] I’m not going to pick one issue.”
Reveley’s decision not to sign prompted Pak to announce an overnight protest. As of 11 p.m. last night, nine Living Wage Campaign supporters were camped out in six tents in the Wren Courtyard.
After the rally dispersed, the pledge cards were briefly posted on the door of the Wren Building, while Reveley expressed disappointment with the campaign.
“I have been perfectly willing to meet and talk in all sorts of settings,” he said. “I’ve listened, I’ve explained. We will simply have to agree to disagree with some aspects of this right now.”
Borja was dissatisfied as well.
“It’s disappointing to have President Reveley say no once again,” she said. “He’s not even willing to try to do this. We’re going to keep pushing this next semester until we get living wages.”