May 24, 2001
Plight of Janitors Merits Regents' Attention, Administration must raise the low wages of deserving UCSD employees
By Jennifer Sposito
Harvard University students won a victory for low-income workers everywhere two weeks ago at the end of a three-week sit-in aiming to draw attention to the plight of Harvard employees not earning a living wage.
As a result of the demands of students, labor unions and politicians, all Harvard workers will earn a minimum of .25 an hour, bringing their pay on par with the minimum wage of people employed in the city of Cambridge, Mass., that surrounds the campus.
The Harvard situation should serve as an example to university administrative bodies everywhere. The Harvard administration was uncharacteristically broadminded in its recognition that the federal minimum wage is no wage at all for those trying to feed and house themselves and their families.
Unfortunately, it seems that Harvard's nod to the importance of people over corner-cutting cannot be hoped for from every university administration.
There is no better example to illustrate this than the struggle of UCSD students and staff to obtain a living wage for workers on campus. Three weeks ago, the work of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan and Justice for Janitors toward this goal was brought to the forefront of everyone's attention, following a wildly successful May Day concert featuring Ozomatli and a march of protest.
UCSD students are protesting precisely the injustices that caused Harvard students to commandeer Harvard's Massachusetts Hall for the better part of a month. No person in his right mind will acknowledge that a wage of just over per hour is enough with which to support a family. However, it seems that no person in the administration is willing to fight for the changes that would rectify this situation.
It should be obvious to most that the University of California's bureaucratic administration does not put the well-being of its workers at the top of its priorities list. Take just a moment to look around campus at the new construction sites, and you'll quickly realize that the thought of garnering money for donations is responsible for the glimmer in the eyes of our administrators, in strict contrast to those who, with heads bowed, carry minds racked by the turmoil caused by viewing social injustices take place.
It is certainly reasonable to expect that the university should concern itself chiefly with its mission of teaching and research. But when these things are accomplished at the expense of others, they are worth nothing.
As the University of California is a public school system, it is also said that the system cannot expect to have enough money at its disposal to fund everything as fully as it would like. I respectfully beg to differ. On one occasion, I have heard of a professor at another UC campus earning over 0,000 per year. This is not the salary of a Nobel laureate or an administrator -- it is merely that of a professor above scale, one of the higher rankings in the UC professor hierarchy. Where is this money coming from?
I can guarantee you that UC President Richard Atkinson is not taking a pay cut to fund the high salaries of some professors. Likewise, he would think it insane to take a pay cut to raise the salaries of the people who clean his office. However, maybe he should.
The janitors and service workers on our campus are some of the hardest workers here - and they probably work a lot harder than your suitemate, whose Palm Springs parents will be providing for him despite his failing three classes last quarter.
I can speak from personal observation. I work in an office on campus where I have known the pleasure of meeting Antonio, a janitor employed by UCSD. Every morning at 8:15, he comes in to straighten our offices. He is one of the nicest people I have met here, and one of the hardest working as well. After working half the day at UCSD, he leaves to tend an elementary school campus until 10 p.m. He works on Saturdays as well.
I'm sorry, Mr. Dynes, but when there are people like Antonio in the world, I'm not very impressed that you sit at a desk for eight hours and go to Jacobs School of Engineering fund-raisers and awards ceremonies in the evenings.
The money to correct the poverty wages on this campus can only be handed over by those who currently control it. UCSD does not have a billion endowment as Harvard has, but there is money here, and a lot of it. It would be refreshing to the point of shock if our administration were to follow the example of a finer academic institution and raise the pay of our workers to a living wage.