"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Saturday, March 03, 2007

living wage discourse

hey all -
i wanted to share a brief exchange that's been occuring on the western listserv (in response to my last post) that has helped me to clarify my stance on the living wage campaign on campus.

sometimes criticism can help you redefine your purpose, so i encourage all of you to go out and engage others in similar discussions. stir people up, get in debates, create a little friction. their discomfort and uncertainty is what stimulates breakthroughs!

love,
stephanie

------

> Stephanie:
>
> Please define sub-poverty wages. How much are these
> people making, what work
> do they do, what hours do they work, etc.? Are they
> primary jobs, or second
> incomes for people whose primary work is done
> somewhere else? If they are
> eligible for food stamps, do they get them?
>
> This is quite an inflammatory claim to make, and as
> someone hearing it for
> the first time I would like to know the specifics.
>
> I realize that I don't have the stats -- I don't
> know who makes what on the
> Miami staff, or what the average wage is. But if 98%
> of Miami workers make
> above poverty wages, then that doesn't sound much
> like oppression to me.
>
> [name removed]

---
[name removed] and others:

"Sub-poverty wages" means exactly what it implies: the wages paid by Miami for FULL-TIME work are below the federally defined poverty line. That is, assuming Miami wages are the primary source of income for these workers, they would be living in poverty. Furthermore, as research and opinion from Butler County social workers indicates, the federally defined poverty lines are grossly inappropriate for predicting poverty in Butler Co. because the cost of living is much higher than national averages. The more accurate estimate of poverty in Butler Co. would be 200% (twice) the federally defined wage.

What this says to me is that Miami does not respect the work or dedication of our staff members. Anyone who gives 40+ hours a week for our PUBLIC university should not be in a position where they qualify for government assistance.

It's not a matter of "if they get food stamps" or not. What matters is what these wages symbolize, which is respect and gratitude for work done, and time and energy spent. The current wage situation suggests to me that Miami does not value its staff. And this is a huge injustice that affects, and should offend, all of us in the university community.

You said "But if 98% of Miami workers make above poverty wages, then that doesn't sound much like oppression to me."

I ask you to reconsider that statement. For though it seems like a small number, it is no less significant. These are 32 individual employees who are potentially living in poverty, DESPITE the fact that they are working FULL-TIME. There are 112 full-time staff who might be needing food stamps to feed their families.

Yes, 98% is an overwhelming majority. But why should we accept that 2% are still potentially living in poverty? Is it acceptable for poverty to exist at all in our community?

Instead of thinking 32 ppl in poverty is not that bad, think of it this way: if it is such a small number of ppl potentially in poverty, then it would take even less effort from the university to make a change. For a university that continues to raise tuition and that has $47+ million in net assets, this should not be an impossible change to make.

We should not continue to sanction poverty and, yes, oppression when it affects those in our own community.

-Stephanie

2 comments:

The ZenFo Pro said...

Hey, great defense, chica. Ya just gotta stand up for what you believe in, every now and then.

I know a lot of folks who really appreciate the work you and SFS have been doing lately.

remaerdyaD said...

Quelle "chica"?

Does not have no thing to do with me. But I can relate, being permanently unemployed (that used to be one of the ways to describe this sort of thing, actually). First off, the thing peo-ple neglect is that employment is not just a form of status. For example, in the eyes of society I am little considered a man because I do not have the income to support myself.

But after that bone crushing, dehumanizing, demoralizing daily humiliation, one is then faced with the precarious situation of existing and subsisting. For example, there is but one human in my life here (including on the Internet) who know me who do not say I should do stuff like, oh I do not know, like seasonal labour, for example. I could bend out enough wage to subsist. The problem is that this surface tension seems perfectly safe to those who have things like job security, pensions, annual income - they look at people like me or those above me on social assistance and say, "get out there and just do it for crying out loud," followed by, "all you lazy people do is complain."

Bottom-line is what it is, though. I may not even be able to persist over, say, a summer doing painting jobs. At some point, you get the killer rep: you become outcast as a loser; you become labelled. Once that happens, it takes years and years, if ever, to live it down. So you end up either moving to another town or sticking it out. This, assuming you have a) a place to live (how does I affordeth?) and b) a telephone (without which you cannot get work). It is a vicious circle. And it is impossible not become physically, let alone mentally, depressed. The clearest alternative becomes drug abuse, promiscuity, alcoholism... I mean, we hear all of these fucking stories all of our lives. But once it actually hits you, you never know how you respond.

Kirsten Anderberg, one of my many personal heroines (-:, seems to point out is that if you have not lived through it you have a predisposition to simply not having the ability to comprehend and thus understand it. Any compassion lacking empathy is doomed. I would write that all the sorts of things that I describe are very much par for the course. To top it all off, can you imagine being one person like this in a group of many wage-earners? Can you really imagine the stress that puts on your entire being???

And, yes, none of it would be likely to happen if you did had a living wage to start from. I would add that even this is just the START of things.