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Students demand Wash U. pay a living wage
"We're here to stay"

By Nicole Colson | April 15, 2005 | Page 11

ST. LOUIS--Students at Washington University have a message for their administration: Campus workers deserve a living wage--and we'll sit in until they get one.

On April 4, a group of activists from the school's Student Worker Alliance (SWA) marched into the admissions office with signs, petitions and fliers--and declared that they wouldn't be leaving until the administration agreed to pay campus workers a living wage.

Though there are 15 permanent sitters, anywhere from 20 to 40 students have been occupying the admissions office at any given time. Students have held daily solidarity rallies in the quad outside the admissions office windows and have even begun a small "tent city" outside as well.

"We are here to stay," Joe Thomas, one of the sit-in organizers, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "We will miss classes if necessary. We'll even go to jail. We will be here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until the chancellor decides it's better to pay his employees a living wage than to deal with us for another day."

After months of SWA demands that the university adopt a code of conduct, including a living wage and card-check union recognition, a university taskforce recommended in May 2004 that Chancellor Mark Wrighton accept a number of the proposals, including the living wage component. Currently, campus workers at Washington University make approximately $8 an hour without benefits--a far cry from the living wage standard set last year by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen of $9.79 an hour with full benefits, or $12.15 an hour without benefits.

Yet on October 1, the chancellor sent an e-mail to the entire student body saying that he had accepted all of the taskforce's proposals--except the living wage.

"He said he wouldn't be a good steward of the money the university got from tuition-paying students if he didn't ensure that the workers on campus were [paid low wages], which I thought was interesting, seeing as how the university has always taken the moral high ground and always wants to be seen as an ethical institution," Ojiugo Uzoma, a senior and one of the cofounders of the SWA, told Socialist Worker.

One economist has estimated that the maximum cost of implementing a living wage policy for all contracted workers at Washington University would be $2.4 million--a pittance, given the university's $3.6 billion endowment.

Inspired by the recent success of a nine-day student hunger strike that won a living wage for campus workers at Georgetown University, the SWA decided to turn the heat up on the administration. As Socialist Worker went to press, a university council meeting was being held to discuss the code of conduct--and student were promising to continue the sit-in as long as it takes.

Call Chancellor Mark Wrighton at 314-935-5100 or e-mail [email protected] and demand a living wage for campus workers. To send a message of solidarity to SWA, visit www.artsci.wustl.edu/~tjzander/.

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