In 2016, Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts was one of the most elite universities in the United States. It had the largest endowment of any university in the country at $35.7 billion. However, despite the wealth of the university, its treatment of its employees, specifically dining services employees, came into question in 2016. Starting in early June 2016, the dining services workers of Harvard began a series of negotiations with the university in order to demand a higher yearly salary.
From 1997 to 2000, students at the University of Virginia held a campaign to raise the living wage from the lowest pay of $6.10 to $8.19. In June 1996, a year before the campaign began, the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity Employment Programs commissioned an investigation, called “The Muddy Floor Report,” that published statistics on racial bias in hiring and pay at UVa’s employment office. The report revealed that housekeeping staff had some of the lowest wages, a third of them qualified for food stamps, and most of them were women and/or African-American.
Arizona State University students win better wages and working conditions for food service workers, 2006-2007
In 2006, Arizona State University was one of the larger schools in the United States of America, and employed over 12,000 people. However, many employees at Arizona State University, including the food service workers, made the federal minimum wage of $5.15/hour, well below the “Living Wage” of Tempe calculated to be $10.46.
Since the late 1990’s, students at many different colleges across American had held campaigns to raise the wages of low-income workers. (See this database for other campaigns.)
In the fall of 1998, Harvard students began a Living Wage Campaign that would last for almost four years. The Campaign was headed by the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) and aimed to help all Harvard employees receive a “living wage”. The demands of the LWC were that each Harvard employee (janitors, security guards, cafeteria workers, etc.) receive a wage of $10 per hour or more. Most workers were receiving the minimum wage at the time, which was around $6.50. In 1998 Cambridge, MA, this was not enough to get by individually, let alone to support a family.
Beginning in late 2005, students at the University of Vermont (UVM) were involved in a movement to increase the wages of school employees such that workers could be given a "living wage." Primarily focused on food-service employees contracted by Sodexho, the nonviolent campaign sought out and acquired support from local officials, faculty, and even state legislators. The students believed they needed in intervene in order to secure a wage that was equal to the state standard of a living wage as established by the state legislature.
Students at University of Notre Dame started a living wage campaign at their school in September 2005 after learning about similar campaigns happening at Harvard University and Georgetown University. A living wage was defined as a family of four being able to live above the poverty line on the working parent’s salary. The Notre Dame students campaigned to raise the minimum pay wage from $8.25 up to $12.10 per hour. The group felt that it was the responsibility of the institution as social Catholics to understand the importance of achieving a living wage for workers.
When the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) hired Chancellor Denice Denton in 2004 the transition entailed her earning a salary of $282,000 a year and $600,000 of renovations made on her future house of residence, including a controversial $30,000 dog run. This became a topic of debate; students as well as media critics quickly brought these details to light and demanded accountability for the choices of spending at the University. Under these circumstances, employees at the University began to call attention to the fact that they earned a less than living wage
Along with many student activists in United States universities in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the University of Buffalo Students Against Sweatshops (UBSAS) ran a campaign to pressure their university to join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). After years of student protests and demonstrations, the University of Buffalo (UB) announced that they would join WRC and the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The group of student activists feared that their university’s decision to also join the corporate-sponsored FLA would compromise the efforts and aims of workers’ rights groups.
Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) formed at Georgetown University in 1996
to support workers' rights. In the fall
of 2001, a group of students, headed by the GSC, formed the Living Wage
Coalition (LWC) in order to guarantee University workers an income to meet their
subsistence needs. The students held meetings on how to take action and organized
breakfast events with workers to hear their grievances and concerns. By 2002, the administration agreed to raise
the minimum wage of workers directly employed by the university to $10.25 per