Even though their goals are noble and supporting labor is important, the tactics of the Living Wage Coalition are alienating and their positions are uninformed. On their Facebook page and in event announcements and updates, the LWC has consistently compared itself to the civil rights movement, claiming theirs is a civil rights issue necessitating sit-ins and direct action. This is an outrageously bold claim. The civil rights movement argued for equal access to public spaces and combatted years of racial prejudice, while the LWC is simply asking for higher wages. This is not an issue of civil rights: It is an issue of labor rights. Comparing a group comprised of fewer than 50 college students, a few professors and several staff members to the civil rights movement of the 1960s is unjustified, rude and downright absurd.
This comparison is only one tactic that has alienated the LWC’s movement on campus. Many students who initially supported the idea behind the campaign for better living conditions for our workers have been turned off by the LWC’s radical tactics and general lack of factual accreditation. There are 11 positions at the College of William and Mary and Virginia Institute of Marine Science that earn less than the lowest paid housekeeping worker. The receptionist in the music department makes only $11,296 per year, a data analyst in the VIMS Physical Sciences Department makes $17,500 annually, and the Counseling Center’s office services specialist makes $17,857 per year. Assistant coaches of less venerated programs earn $18,000 annually. Housekeeping workers at the College, in turn, earn annual salaries ranging from $18,720 to $22,654.
While delivering an in-class plug for the latest rally, a member of the LWC was asked how the salaries of the College’s housekeeping staff compare to those at other public universities in the state and the LWC member was unable to answer. The wages of our housekeeping staff generally correspond to those at other public universities in Virginia. At James Madison University, the average housekeeper earns $18,720 per year, which is exactly equal to the College’s housekeepers. The average housekeeper at Virginia Tech, meanwhile, earns $17,680 a year. The College should strive for excellence in the treatment of all its workers, but requesting $15 per hour for an unskilled position is illogical. At the nation’s most elite private prep schools in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods, custodians do not earn $15 per hour. The College is a public college in Virginia, a state in which educational salaries are among the lowest in the country. The LWC’s cause is noble but their requests are idealistic, especially in the face of the College’s current economic problems.
Even if the LWC used more effective logic to support their claims, their overly aggressive tactics would still result in minimal support on campus. Members have recently threatened to disrupt upcoming graduation ceremonies, a statement that has been met with harsh disapproval by students. Ruining graduation will not gain the LWC any support; it will only serve to further alienate an already unpopular group. If the LWC hopes to have more than 30 people at their events next year, they need to stop alienating the community and utilize a more inclusive form of activism.