A student-led movement for campus workers
Across the country, the labor shortage is changing. At the University of Notre Dame, students are organizing to demand higher labor standards for campus workers.
Two undergraduates, junior Edward Brunicardi and sophomore Bridget Schippers, co-founded the Raise the Standard campaign this semester.
The campaign is calling on the university to implement what it calls a “fair pay structure” for campus employees.
In just one week, the campaign garnered nearly 500 signatures for its Change.org petition.
In an emailed statement, University spokesperson Dennis Brown said: “The university is extremely proud of the way it works with its employees and is particularly proud of the support measures we have taken throughout the pandemic. In addition to health and welfare precautions, this support may have been most evident in the rapid, substantial and positive adjustments made to compensation and benefits. These include raising the minimum starting wage for non-exempt staff to $15 per hour, as well as adding paid time off for extra vacation, sick days, and family/caregiver leave. . And, next week, the University will be offering substantial appreciation bonuses to full-time and part-time employees. As always, we will continue to re-evaluate our total rewards set and make adjustments where needed. » Denis statement
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“These were needs that people had before COVID and before inflation got worse over the past few months,” Schippers said. “And so I can only think of the person who was struggling to live on his current salary six months ago, it becomes even more impossible now.”
The campaign was inspired by Clark Power, a professor of psychology and education, who has been researching workers’ wages for several years. Power reached out to the students to translate this research into action.
The Raise the Standard campaign has two branches, each tasked with a different mission. The research team is working behind the scenes, sifting through the data and establishing an empirically informed agenda, Brunicardi said.
“The research team is basically trying to study the problem – figuring out where the inequalities are in our current salary structure at Notre Dame – and then [asking] what is the standard we should be striving for,” Brunicardi said.
The advocacy team is the public arm of the campaign. Raise the Standard defenders served as liaisons. They intend to keep in touch with the group they have committed to serve, collecting statements and feedback from community workers. They are also responsible for relaying the information found by the research team.
The advocacy team, Brunicardi said, shares its message with people who have the power to effect change — “talking to other people who would have a lot of influence like our administration and generally to persuade them.”
Workers are at the center of the campaign, said Brunicardi. Raising the Standard is determined to remember this as they build their agenda and push for change. The workers’ experiences inform the campaign’s research, Brunicardi added, helping them better understand the university’s complex pay structure.
“If we don’t know how our system works, it’s hard to improve it,” Brunicardi said.
Other universities, such as Harvard, Georgetown, the University of Rochester, New York University and Johns Hopkins University, have made changes to working conditions on campus similar to those proposed by the campaign.
“Many of them saw their attendance or applications to college increase,” Brunicardi said.
The campus minimum wage is especially important for low-income students, who rely on campus jobs to cover their basic expenses. Although better-paying jobs are available in the surrounding community, he added, low-income students often lack the resources to work off-campus.
“A lot of times if it’s in South Bend, you have to go out into the community to go to work, and if you’re on a low income, it’s hard to get a car,” Brunicardi said.
Fundamentally, the campaign asserts, Notre Dame and South Bend are inextricably linked; the university holds immense authority over the city and its functioning.
“Notre Dame is the largest employer in South Bend. And so we have to start taking that responsibility,” Schippers said.
Our Lady is responsible for raising the standard because she often sets the standard. Since Notre Dame has such a big impact, they are able to change the caliber for the rest of the community.
“It’s not just enough to match market salaries because we’re picking market salaries,” Schippers said.
The university promotes Catholic virtues; students are expected to help others and make a difference globally. With this in mind, the campaign argues that they must learn to put their own words into practice, emphasizing that community members must be cared for and their issues must be taken seriously.
“The main objective of this campaign is to ensure that we respect these values of Catholic social teaching, to ensure that we recognize the dignity of work,” Schippers said.
Over the next year, the school will decide on its strategic plan for the next ten years. Clubs and organizations should include in their demands that the university requires treating their workers with dignity and creating a living wage, instead of just a minimum wage. Student support will help influence the school to do the right thing.
“It’s getting to the point where we’re able to do great things. So let’s actually do them,” Schippers said.
The Office of Student Employment is trying to go in the direction desired by the Raising the Standard campaign. From May 1 for students newly employed or after, they will abolish the basic, intermediate and skilled three-tier pay system. Along with that, they will raise the starting salary to $11.
Along the same lines, Dennis Brown reported that a minimum wage of $15 will be given to all non-exempt staff. In addition to salary, employees will receive additional benefits: paid time off for extra vacation, sick leave, and family/caregiver days. Bonuses will also be distributed to full-time and part-time employees. The administration plans to continue its analysis of its plan to see how best to treat its workers, which is in line with the campaign’s goals.