Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

43° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Letter to the Editor: Moving forward: A message from the Living Wage Campaign

For the past year, the Living Wage Campaign has been changing the culture of Northwestern’s campus, challenging the divide that has long existed between students and service workers here. We’ve been changing the culture by listening, by learning, not only from our professors but from the people who cook our meals and clean our dorms.

What we’ve learned motivates us to continue to fight for change. The Daily editorial board is not going to dampen our resolve.

When The Daily criticizes us for relying on the emotional, we assume that they refer to the stories of workers’ lives. The indisputable facts are found in the conditions campus workers live in every day. It’s the facts that make us emotional, that indeed make us angry. There is poverty on our campus and the University could end it. This isn’t a theoretical problem in class, it’s real life. It’s our campus, it’s the person who just made our lunch.

From listening to workers we know that they don’t want to be dependent on food stamps – we find The Daily’s notion that workers shouldn’t get a living wage because then they wouldn’t qualify for food stamps to be insensitive at best. The suggestion to focus on getting workers better skills ignores other key facts – the workers have skills, and even if they had the time to learn others while struggling to pay the bills and often working multiple jobs, there will always be workers feeding students on campus. We believe those workers should not live in poverty.

Certainly the kinds of service programs The Daily discusses are important, but Northwestern can do more. Connecting workers to benefits and programs goes hand in hand with paying workers a living wage. In fact, our living wage number, from the Heartland Alliance’s 2009 Self Sufficiency Report, “Getting By and Getting Ahead,” includes government assistance. There are great programs that help disadvantaged communities, but these services are band-aids that simply treat symptoms of poverty.

The Daily advises us to reorient our goals towards benefits like those we won last spring. Benefits have been central to our mission from the beginning. But we have always argued that a two-pronged approach is crucial to addressing this culture of invisibility on campus: community building coupled with fair wages. While we won discounted tickets and educational grants, it won’t make a difference for someone who works two jobs and has no time to take advantage of these benefits.

We are shocked that The Daily argued that it’s fine for these profitable companies to pay low wages because the federal government provides Medicaid and food stamps. As taxpayers, we are subsidizing a low wage economy. The fact that Northwestern workers are eligible for food stamps means they cannot afford food. That’s proof that we are not paying a sufficient wage.

The editorial shows ignorance and basic confusion. Medicaid exists as a safety net for poor people, not as a way to subsidize or enable corporations and universities to underpay their workers. It’s appalling that The Daily assumes that this is the function and the role of these government programs.

It is not the responsibility of students to manage the Northwestern budget, in fact, the university keeps the budget confidential. What we know is that Northwestern is wealthy, that we have a large endowment and that Northwestern is launching a multi-billion dollar capital campaign. It is indisputable that it is within Northwestern’s means to pay workers a living wage: $3-4 million is clearly doable. We are saying that to the community, treating workers as equals is important. We compared the costs of a living wage policy to the costs of one tenure-line professorship (not an endowed chair) not to say replace faculty, but to illustrate how feasible this is.

The Daily’s argument that implementing a living wage policy at Northwestern would lead to layoffs reflects a lack of research. Studies have shown that in Santa Monica, Boston, New Haven and Hartford, living wage policies did not prompt affected firms to cut jobs or even reduce employees’ hours. The contention that the Stanford living wage policy forced layoffs is correct, but this occurred because resistant administrators diluted the proposal by allowing certain contractors to bypass its mandates. We can avoid diluting our living wage policy by following models like that of Georgetown, which avoided layoffs through committee oversight.

Just last month, our neighbors at DePaul University raised worker wages from $9.25 to a minimum of between $11.80 and $14.30 per hour. If DePaul can accomplish this with a $245.6 million endowment, Northwestern can do the same using its $6.3 billion endowment.

There are people who have worked on campus since before any current undergraduate was born who make $9.54 an hour, and more recent hires making $8.40. That is not enough to support yourself, let alone a family.

We challenge Northwestern as we have challenged ourselves: to really get to know the workers on campus. When you do that, see if you still could look any one of them in the eye and say: “I think you shouldn’t get a living wage.” This is about looking at campus workers as equals, and treating them and paying them accordingly.

-Adam Yalowitz

LWC co-director, Weinberg senior

-Kellyn Lewis

LWC co-director, Weinberg junior

-Maggie Birkel

LWC co-director, Weinberg junior

On behalf of the NU Living Wage Campaign

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Letter to the Editor: Moving forward: A message from the Living Wage Campaign