Two and a half years ago, a preliminary strategy was devised to establish a fair wage campaign at Washington College.
It was an inspiring time, with similar campaigns drawing attention- and varying degrees of success- around the country. The Harvard Living Wage Campaign met with particular success, convincing the administration of that school to raise their base wages from $10 an hour to $10.50. (This, you need to know, came as a result of the city of Cambridge actually making such a change on its own, forcing the issue.) We were eager to see how such an effort would pan out at WaC, where it was evident to us that employees were unhappy because of wages.
We quickly learned from staff members that they felt unable to address the administration and expect any results, that they felt powerless. We quickly learned from the administration that wages at Washington College really were competitive for the county, the greatest asset of which had been pitched at a Kent County economic planning forum as our tremendous amount of unskilled labor.
Staff members were eager to tell us what the rising cost of health insurance was doing to their monthly take-home. Administrators pointed, astute and assured, at the tuition exchange full time employees are eligible for and the free classes they can take after one year of employment.
Standing in the middle, students involved in the campaign were privy to these differing perspectives, but unable act as arbitrators. After a few months of meeting as the Living Wage Campaign, those involved decided to pursue a staff counsel which would allow employees to meet in the same way faculty members do: an open forum, once a month, for the purpose of exploring the concerns of the people who keep this place running night and day.
Skipping ahead to the present, there is not yet a staff counsel and many of the same complaints are circulating. While base hiring salaries for maintenance and dining services are up to $7.50 from the $7.10 they were about two years ago, employees are still discontented with the costs of insurance and with the wages that still cant keep positions filled.
People are really feeling bad, Benefits Administrator Doris Oakley recently told me. Not only because of the pay
its the feeling of not being appreciated. A lot of our employees feel like they dont have anywhere to go.
The newly-distributed Middle States Self-Study states that those [among WC employees] who expressed dissatisfaction felt that there is insufficient representation for specific staff concerns (salary, benefits, and work conditions) and for issues of college management.
For some staff concerns, bodies do exist which aim at helping employees. There has long been a committee for addressing health benefits issues, and a committee also exists to handle staff complaints. The Grievance Committee is officially intended to handle discrimination matters and in actuality most of its cases are related to sexual harassment. Nothing concerning compensation, standard of living, salaries or working conditions comes before the Grievance Committee.
The WC Living Wage Campaign and its culminating issue- we need a staff counsel- has been haunting us of late. Students ought to intervene on behalf of the unrepresented members of our community but it is not for us to make demands alone. The body would need official mandate as it would constitute a structural change for this community. The matter is in the jurisdiction of the Board of Visitors and Governors and our administration, but I have to advocate from where I stand. I am a student and a customer and it seems like there would be no better time than this period of serious transition for Washington College to create a staff counsel. That is the belief of many others who have consistently supported our staff, as well.