< Back | Home

December 5, 2006

Livable wage: Fogel responds to task force

By HAZEL RYERSON, The Vermont Cynic

This Thursday, President Fogel announced what steps the University will take towards implementing a livable wage policy, an announcement that left many leaders of the livable wage campaign disappointed and outraged.

For over a year the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) has pressured the University administration to implement a livable wage for all UVM employees. Last April, Fogel responded by creating the Basic Needs and Equitable Compensation Task Force to research livable wage as it applies to UVM.

Fogel and Senior Vice President and Provost John Hughes met with the task force on Thursday to discuss its final recommendations.

The meeting began as Fogel thanked the task force for its hard work and ended in public outrage when community members expressed the opinion that Fogel's response was inadequate.

"I feel personally that the discussion that went on today was an effort to discredit the work of the task force. I am disgusted by that," SLAP cocoordinator Max Tracy said.

Fogel responded to the public criticism and defended the administration's policies.
"For this community to continually say that the glass is half empty when it is clearly half full is morbid … it is pathological; it is hurting the fabric of the community," Fogel said.

The task force unanimously agreed that the University "should establish a minimum hourly wage that is not based on labor market conditions, but on the basic needs of a single person household," as the recommendation stated.

The task force calculated this basic needs wage at $12.28 per hour using livable wage data from the Joint Fiscal Office of Vermont.

Fogel did not respond directly to the implementation of a livable wage. Instead he spoke about the new United Electrical (UE) union contract that was finalized in October.

Fogel said the conditions of the new contract for the UE will also apply to non-union employees who receive less than livable wage. According to the task force, there are 256 employees receiving less than a livable wage, 73 of whom are not represented by a union.

"There is substantial gain here," Fogel said of the new contract, which set the wage floor at $10.60 per hour. The UE represents 330 maintenance workers at the University, 181 of whom are currently earning less than a livable wage.

"This has put us in a leadership position with other public institutions and neck-in-neck with some wealthier institutions." Fogel said, referring to a chart that showed UVM's new wage floor as second only to Georgetown.

Fogel also pointed out that under the conditions of the new contract, the wage floor will rise to $10.75 by this spring. Economics professor Ross Thomson, a member of the task force, asked Fogel how the University will implement the conclusions of this report.

"We feel we have already done that for the time being … [$10.60] is in the zone of what you recommended," Fogel said. "It doesn't matter that $10.75 is above our peers. That is not a livable wage," SLAP and task force member Sam Maron said.

"I am disappointed to hear that you are not taking a bolder step and moving forward some of the recommendations of the task force," said Jennifer Larsen, a member of the task force representing the non-unionized University employees.

Fogel and Hughes cited health care and retirement benefits, subsidized transportation costs and tuition remission for University employees as benefits that should be included when calculating the livable wage for employees.

Maron said that the task force did include these factors in its calculation of $12.28, but according to Fogel, "there are many ways to calculate livable wage" and he did not want to "quibble over cents" at the public meeting.

It is unclear what route the livable wage campaign will take next. At this date, Fogel has not asked the task force to reconvene. "The response from SLAP is that absolutely none of our demands were met," Maron said.

SLAP met Thursday evening to discuss what strategy to pursue next. "No one really knows what happened here. Our campaign needs to start by telling people that," SLAP member Kat Nopper said at the meeting.

"We are not going to stop. This fight continues, I am committed as a student, an activist and a human being to the implementation of this policy," Tracy said.


© Copyright 2006 Vermont Cynic