Agnes Scott College Workers Protest for Living Wages

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(APN) DECATUR — About 50 students, faculty members, staff members of Agnes Scott College, and other concerned community activists gathered on campus Friday, October 26, 2007, to ask the Agnes Scott College Board of Trustees to institute living wages for all staff members.

The Agnes Scott Living Wage Campaign has been urging trustees for some time to provide a living wage of $14.40 per hour plus healthcare for all Agnes Scott staff and all contracted staff. Agnes Scott is private liberal arts college for women.

“We hope the Board of Trustees will hear us today and will understand that we are human beings like everybody else and we’re just asking for what we think is a decent living,” Della Spurley, an Agnes Scott staff member for 42 years, said.

Spurley, one leading organizer of the campaign, has only recently started making $14.40 per hour but still has no healthcare. Spurley and other staffers, who have won incremental improvements, are still overworked and underpaid, she said.

Most Agnes Scott staff members are making a base pay of $11.44 per hour for 2007-2008, up from what they made in 2006-2007 but still well short of what the campaign considers a living wage.

The campaign met with trustees earlier this year and engaged in a role-playing game where trustees learned how a single staff member with two children had to get by on a monthly budget that exceeded monthly pay.

Helen Cox, a student organizer with the campaign, told Atlanta Progressive News some of the trustees were brought to tears at the reality many staffers face each month, such as what bills to pay that month and which to let go.

The custodial staff is currently six members short and there is only one person to clean two entire buildings and one floor of another, activists said. One of the campaign demands calls for an appropriate workload for staff members.

“We are so understaffed here,” Jillian Wells, co-president of Witkaze, Agnes Scott’s black student alliance said. “[The staff] are basically doing the work of two people right now and are only getting the wages of one person.”

Then there is a group of staff members who receive even less than their coworkers.

Some staff members are contracted through a private company called Aramark–which provides cafeteria and other services on campuses across the country–to do work at Agnes Scott. But these staff members are not entitled to the same pay or benefits of staff employed directly by Agnes Scott.

The campaign seeks to remedy this situation by either offering the same pay and benefits to Aramark staff or have the Aramark staff become Agnes Scott staff members.

Kelly Grant, an Aramark contract staff member and a leading campaign organizer, said she would like to take some courses at the college and that her daughter is also having trouble getting into Agnes Scott. Grant said she does not understand why she and her daughter cannot receive the same benefits as her fellow Agnes Scott staff members.

The campaign is urging trustees to allow all staff members the chance to take degree courses as well as classes in English as a second language and computer literacy.

Members of the campaign also want children of Aramark staff to be eligible for Agnes Scott tuition and for it to be paid by the college. Children of Agnes Scott staff members currently enjoy this benefit.

Receiving eligibility to take courses at Agnes Scott is just one way staff members are seeking to be more included in everyday campus life.

The campaign would like to see the inclusion of members of all facilities, clerical, security, and food services staff into the Executive Board and the Board of Trustees, as well as the creation of a permanent, democratic, and empowered Staff Senate so that staff members have a say in their own lives.

The campaign feels staff members should also be included in traditional Agnes Scott events like orientation and alumnae weekend and have representation on planning committees.

“There’s a lot of division here on this campus that should not exist,” Wells said. “It’s really important that we the students and the staff take the initiative to break down these barriers that exist between us.”

While trustees have made promises this year to provide living wages and decision- making power for Agnes Scott workers, they have so far not delivered.

Activists decided to march across campus Friday and deliver the list of demands to the trustees while their meeting was in progress. While the trustees surprisingly allowed the crowd to enter the meeting room and even applauded after a few remarks, it is unclear if the trustees will act and how soon.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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