February 22, 2001

Coalition Supports Living Wage for All

Print More

Launching an ambitious public education campaign, the Cornell Community Living Wage Coalition (CCLWL) held a press conference yesterday in support of President Rawling’s initiative to improve wages for Cornell employees.

“We needed it bad,” said Harry Evans, United Auto Workers local president, of Rawlings’ December 13 statement, in which the University president committed Cornell to paying a livable wage to all employees within the lowest pay brackets, regardless of union affiliation.

The timing of yesterday’s event corresponded with a meeting the Alternative Federal Credit Union (AFCU) scheduled to calculate a new living wage for the workers of Tompkins County. Since the mid-1990s, the AFCU, a private non-profit credit union, has been a local leader among organizations that have drawn media attention to the differences between a living wage and a minimum wage.

A living wage is conventionally considered the minimum income required to meet a household’s basic needs, including the costs of healthcare, rent, transportation and childcare. It is also location specific, recognizing differences in the costs of living from county to county.

Don Lifton ’67, a representative of the United Progressives Alumni, suggested that the AFCU may raise the living wage by about six percent as an adjustment to a steady rise in living costs over the past two years. If the adjustements is ratified, the living wage would approach $20,000 a year.

At the press conference, Peg Unsworth, a member of the grassroots group Justice for All, cited economic studies from Michigan State University and Amherst College that supported the University’s initiative. She also spoke of the Holiday Inn hotel chain’s of the living wage as a model for Cornell, underlining that the company saw improvements in productivity and reduction in absenteeism and turnover.

“It’s not simply a matter of justice,” said Unsworth, “but also a matter of economy.”

Prof. Ken Reardon, city and regional planning, encouraged Cornell — as an elite institution — to send a national message by supporting the living wage.

The Living Wage Coalition, in expressing its support for the initiative, urged the University to follow three principles as foundations for its commitment.

First, the living wage standard must be “reasonable” Reardon said, emphasizing that Cornell salaries must adequately reflect a 10-month work year where summer layoffs reduce the value of an hourly wage.

Also, a living wage should be a “universal” meaning it must be guaranteed to workers whether or not they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Finally, the living wage program should be implemented now.

“If a living wage is a demand for justice,” Reardon said, “justice should not have to wait.”

Christina Ingoglia ’03, president of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA), unveiled a dorm program which a group of students carry out in conjunction with the Living Wage Coalition.

As part of their efforts to relate wage shortcomings, the students have been issuing dorm residents a mock salary comparable to a salary the University currently pays.

This educational experiment challenges dorm residents to meet expenses like rent, food, and childcare on the money they earn.

In addition, COLA members have been holding regular screenings of “In the Shadow of the Clocktower,” a 1997 documentary depicting day-to-day conditions of some Cornell workers.

After watching the film last night, the Cornell Democrats voted to sign onto the Coalition.

Archived article by Sana Krasikov