The first day of the spring Board of Visitors meetings was punctuated by the College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley and Rector Henry Wolf sitting down with Living Wage Coalition members for a tense exchange of opposing perspectives.
Two College workers joined 12 LWC members in passing out proposals to the BOV members.
“The only thing we came here to ask you, President Reveley, is if you and the board are ready to make living wages a reality here at William and Mary,” Katie Dalby ’11 said.
Reveley and Wolf had more than one opposition to this proposal.
“You have remarkably little support for what you are pushing relentlessly,” Reveley said. “You guys have a particular point of view, you have closed yourself in great self-righteous ire … You don’t reflect anything other than your particular point of view.”
When Russolello ’12 argued that the College was a revered institution that, given its reputation, should be setting precedents instead of following the mainstream, Reveley began arguing the logistics of their proposals.
“If you can arrange for us not to be state-owned, that would be a more powerful argument,” Reveley said. “We have had no general wage increase for three years for anyone.”
Reveley cited the political climate as a hindrance to the implementation of living wages, but noted that the LWC brought something new to the conversation by recently garnering support from local community and campus organizations including the NAACP, SEAC, AFL-CIO and the local firefighters organization.
“It would be very risky politically to raise wages at this time,” Reveley said. “Our custodians have very good jobs-with benefits- and have not been laid off.”
Voices rose when an employee of the College, Rossi Colman, asked Reveley why he has not met with workers.
“You can object to lots of things I say, but one thing you cannot say is that I have never been accessible,” Reveley said. “I have met with you guys- what would you say, 10 to 15 times about this? And I’ve said the same things over and over again.”
Colman responded by saying he has looked Reveley in the eye while standing outside his house.
“That is total bull roar,” Reveley countered. “We have plenty of people working at William and Mary who get below the market, and you guys are not paid below the market. You guys are paid above the market.”
College custodial employees earn an average salary rate of $9.97, which is 54 cents higher than the statewide average pay rate of $9.43.
Reveley was also asked why $26 million dollars were recently allocated for a new fraternity complex while worker’s hourly wages have not been increased to the LWC’s goal of $15 per hour and why his personal salary was over $300,000.
“We have been over this … That money [the 26 million dollars for the fraternity complex] is coming from what you pay to live in a dorm … This money is operational and cannot be used for this because they are two separate things,” Reveley said. “I asked you all if you would be willing to have your tuition increased, and what I got is ‘no.’ You guys are asking someone else to pay for it.”
In regard to his personal salary, Reveley asked LWC members what they would like it to be. He then continued to cite the reasons why such an increase in wages is financially unrealistic.
“We have calculated the amount of money across William and Mary per year, and if you take everyone who works below $31, 200 and brought them up to $31, 200, it’s something like $ 4.5 million,” Reveley said. “There is no way we can take one group below $31, 200, and say you get help, and nobody else does. As I have said on numerous occasions, if we have the capacity to do something, of course we will do something.”
LWC members claimed they were denied attendance to the open BOV sessions and said they are open to creative solutions, reiterating that workers have been pushing for higher wages for over 10 years.
Russolello admitted she did not know exactly what money in the budget could be used to support LWC proposals.
“You can’t say that you are going to do something when you don’t have the resources to do it,” Wolf said. “The financial situation that we are in will only become worse.”
In a side conversation, Russolello stated she understood the economic crisis was complicated, but the workers’ wages were a moral crisis. Reveley’s remarks concerning the LWC’s lack of support and Wolf’s failure to see the financial certainty behind their proposals prompted Russolello and Dalby to begin leaving.
“Don’t come back if you choose to leave when other people are talking to you,” Reveley said. “When you guys start walking out of conversations, do not return.”
Earlier in the day, LWC chanting and door-banging disrupted the closed session of the Committee on Strategic Initiatives at 3:15 p.m. After protesters were asked to leave the entrance hallway, LWC members and Reveley scheduled a meeting for 5:45 p.m.
“I thought it went really well … It went as expected,” Dalby said. “President Reveley said at the beginning that we didn’t have anything to talk about if we didn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation … Rector Henry Wolf seemed a lot more receptive to living wages.”
Dalby had a more negative opinion of Reveley’s behavior.
“Surprisingly, President Reveley was disrespectful in the end,” Dalby said. “He referred to the campaign as having a pathetic show of support. We want to get to the point where the BOV sees living wages as a priority.”