Workers Celebrate Step Toward Living Wage at UT

After thirteen years of calling on the University of Tennessee to seriously tackle the problem of poverty wages on its campuses, members of United Campus Workers, the union of staff and faculty at the state’s public colleges and universities, are cautiously celebrating. Today, UT agreed to raise its base pay to $9.50/hour for all full and part time regular employees by June 2014.

“This is a really important first step,” said Karly Safar, member of UCW and a secretary at UT. “There’s a long way to go to get everyone more than a check or two ahead of disaster. We’ve been working to get rid of poverty wages on campus for so long, and today we can be satisfied that our efforts are beginning to pay off.”

Indeed, it was in the year 2000 that UT’s Faculty Senate conducted a study that identified $9.50/hour plus benefits to be the minimum that regular employees needed to earn in order to make ends meet. The study called the $9.50 figure “the most conservative yet still defensible estimate…of what it would take to provide basic necessities and a life with dignity for a family of four in Knoxville.”

Founding members of the union who have since retired from full time work at UT remember calling for $9.50 an hour in 2000. Some of them return in the summers to work as temporary dorm custodians making $7.50, below even the current base pay.

Thirteen years later, that figure is $12.50/hour. The union’s calculations indicate that bringing the 1,550 regular campus employees who make less than a living wage up to $25,000 would cost just 1% of UT’s salary expenses.

“We provide a valuable public service to Tennesseans, and we’ve earned the right to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Tom Anderson, UCW President and UTK Facilities Services employee.

“We’re glad they’ve listened to us. The truth of the matter is that $9.50 just isn’t enough to make ends meet anymore. It’s a good step, but there’s still ground to cover.”

United Campus Workers began campaigning for a living wage just over a decade ago, and continues to bring together staff, faculty, students, and community allies in its campaign for living wages and public services in the state.

“Our motto is, ‘A full time job should keep you out of poverty, not in it,’” said Anderson. “It’s good to know that UT’s hearing us say it.”
 

Resources:

2010-2011 Living Wage Study by UTK Faculty Senate: http://senate.utk.edu/files/2011/08/2010-2011-Living-Wage-Study.pdf

Living Wage Fact Sheet, first Living Wage Study in 2000: http://web.utk.edu/~senate/LivingWageFAQ.html

The Minimum We Can Do: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/30/the-minimum-we-can-do/

What Families Need to Get By, Economic Policy Institute: http://www.epi.org/publication/ib368-basic-family-budgets/