living wage campaign comes to life

I forgot yesterday to post this great article on the rebirth of the Harvard Living Wage campaign. As you can see from reading the article, I’m a member of the group, so I’m not going to claim any sort of objectivity (do I ever?). Even so, I think that this campaign, this moral question, is an important one for students to get involved in. In today’s paper, too, there was this bizarre piece of analysis of the campaign that I may comment on more extensively later. In any event, read the article, read the OpEd, and start thinking about it: can Harvard afford to pay its workers a living wage? Shouldn’t it? As always, just hit the comment button.

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3 responses to “living wage campaign comes to life

  1. Twenty bucks seems quite a different kind of demand than eleven bucks.

  2. It seems to me that university workers are most negatively affected by the lack of full-time employment opportunities– and fighting for full-time employment benefits probably carries a more convincing argument than arguing for a higher living wage (and how does one really come up with what the living wage should be– is this $20/hr an arbitrary number?)– which conservative economists will never agree to on the basis of economic efficiency and setting wages to marginal productivities and no higher. By forcing employees to work part-time rather than full-time in order to avoid paying out health insurance, pension, and other important benefits- the university is blatantly attempting to cut costs at the expense of workers who are willing and deserving of more hours. this alone should be questioned because using the system to avoid paying out deserved benefits is unacceptable- especially for an institution like harvard- and this is an argument that not even the most hard core economist can deny.

  3. To address several points:

    As much as I’d like to, it’s really tough for me to kick this underlying notion that we’re somehow screwing with economics by paying Harvard’s janitors $20/hr, which is far above the market rate. Meghan’s point is well taken that hours and benefits are just as much of an issue. But I wonder if it would be much more effective to campaign for a higher government-mandated living wage, phased in over some period of time, that would force all businesses to pay their workers substantially better.

    As for Vivek’s op-ed: It’s hard to know where to begin to criticize it. His counterargument is that it’s inherently unfair to pay people wages based on innate skills they can’t control. But he never disproves this claim, instead saying that it’s equally arbitrary that Harvard focus on it’s own janitors and not try to end world poverty. Putting aside the fact that he hasn’t sufficiently addressed the counterargument–which is really the philosophical underpinning of the living-wage movement–it’s easy to say why Harvard’s concern should be with its janitors. Any community is right to be concerned with its own communtiy members, and not necessarily world poverty. Should GM not raise the salaries of its assembly line workers because there are other poor people out there? No! GM should take care of its own workers! It’s the job of governments, NGOs and IOs to address world poverty, not universities like Harvard (at least from a monetary perspective–Harvard scholars should definitely try to tackle the issue).

    There are other problems with the op-ed, too, namely the bullcrap central point about respect–I think the janitors will be plenty happy to make more money, thank you, and I don’t see how I’d treat them any differently if I knew they were actually providing for their families instead of just scraping by.

    Regardless, I hope SLAM is able to get salaries for all technical and clerical workers a little bit higher. How much higher does the endowment have to go before worker salaries see an uptick? The percentage of the endowment that the University puts into its annual budget is constant, about 4%. That means that a $3.3b increase in the principal of the endowment, which is what last year’s change was, comes to about $130m more in this year’s University budget. That’s more than enough to boost salaries by more than a sliver.

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