Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vanderbilt Workers Fight for a Living Wage

Any U.S. citizen living just about anywhere in this country would find it hard to survive making $7.55 per hour as a full-time employee. Yet, this is the pay that Vanderbilt University offers its entry-level workers. To help change this, Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice and the Vanderbilt Community Alliance have planned protests in the coming weeks to call for the University to offer a living wage to all of its employees.

Continuing with the theme of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, the Living Income for Vanderbilt Employees organization will sponsor a “Keep the Dream Burning” candlelight vigil on Friday, January 26 at 4:15 p.m. on Vanderbilt University’s Library Lawn.

Vigil leaders will discuss workers like Karen Jones, who has been a Vanderbilt employee for 10 years, and makes less than $9 per hour. “I clean up at night,” Jones told WTVF Channel 5 in Nashville last week. “I do my job and I do it well.” That's why Jones and the hundreds of other Vanderbilt employees in her situation, deserve more than that.

In March 2005, the Vanderbilt administration agreed to raise minimum pay from $6.50 an hour to $7.55 an hour, but the Vanderbilt Community Alliance says that isn’t enough. Workers would need to earn at least $10.18 per hour in order to pay for housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare and taxes in Nashville, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“Vanderbilt workers often toil for decades for the University, and still often make less than $10 an hour,” Megan Macaraeg, a Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice representative told Cappuccino Soul. “Frequently, entire families, mostly African American, are caught in cycles of generational poverty working for Vanderbilt … It’s only fair that Vanderbilt’s lowest paid workers be treated with dignity and respect, and make a living wage," she said.

In 2001, Harvard University found itself in a similar battle. The Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies recommended that the University raise the pay of the school’s lowest paid workers. The next year, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers raised the pay for low wage earners to $10.81.

Keith Caldwell, Nashville Peace and Justice Center Coordinator, told Channel 5 that at their current salaries, Vanderbilt full-time workers have to depend on poverty programs and government subsidies to support themselves. “Vanderbilt has a $3.2 billion endowment and it can afford to do this,” Caldwell said. Indeed, it can.

Call Megan Macaraeg with Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice at 615-977-7118 for more information about the candlelight vigil.

· Vanderbilt Tuition and fees – $42,000 per year
· Vanderbilt University Chancellor Gorden Gee’s salary – $1.3 million per year (one of the highest paid chancellors in the country.)