Students debate living wage merits at town hall meeting

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Approximately 30 students gathered Wednesday evening at an informal town hall meeting hosted by Student Council to discuss the current living wage proposal. Students trickled out as the meeting progressed to attend other obligations, but a few of those who could stay debated the topic even past the official end of the meeting.

Student Council Co-President Andrew Gisselquist ’05 and Student Life Representative Heidi Fieselmann ’06 began the meeting with a brief history of the living wage and a summary of President Bloom’s proposal. The current proposal, which will be presented to the Board for a vote in December, provides an increase in the minimum wage to $10.38 an hour while leaving employee benefit banks intact. The benefit bank provides the equivalent of roughly $0.88 an hour over base pay and would result in a total compensation of roughly $11.26 an hour. In addition, the proposal also intends to make additional money available to help employees who wish to further their education by taking classes either at Swarthmore or elsewhere. Overall, the proposal is estimated to cost between $70,000 and $130,000 a year.

After the introduction students began discussion by asking questions such as where the college would get the money and how sustainable the proposal would be. Student Council and a few members from the Living Wage and Democracy Campaign tried to answer all the questions, but could not precisely say where the money would come from as that is up to the Board of Managers to decide. However, commenting on the sustainability of the proposal Gisselquist mentioned that “they [the board] do not want to lock future boards into a living wage,” for which reason the proposal is specifically not called a “Living Wage”.

For the bulk of the time remaining students debated whether the proposal should adopted and how students play into the factors influencing the Board’s final decision. From one perspective, Arthur Chu ’06 said that “[a living wage] is an involuntary carving out of part of everyone’s tuition rather than a voluntary fund” and raised issues with the proposal about employee over-qualification, since higher wages attracts more qualified employees. However, other students mentioned that it is part of the college’s mission to educate students to become socially responsible adults.

Near the end of the meeting debate focused on why supporters of a “Living Wage” are a vocal minority of the campus. While there are few vocal opponents of the issue, the majority of the campus has not yet voiced support for a “Living Wage”. Students ventured reasons for this such as the fact that most students do not know much about the issue, or possibly because people against the living wage have nothing to rally for yet, but will once they know where the money will come from.

After the meeting, Jacob Wallace offered a different opinion from some of the other students, “[t]he issue of the living wage at Swarthmore is for me an issue of prioritiesÅ  for those concerned with the fiscal impact of the proposal ask yourselves whether the purchase of several 50 inch televisions screams of a tight budget.”

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