Bucknell University students campaign for living wage, 2001


To coerce the administration of Bucknell University to add three staff members to the budget council, instate a Fair Labor Council at the college, discontinue anti-unionizing letters to staff members, and establish a university-wide minimum wage that enables workers to live above the poverty line. Also, to protect the jobs of dining hall workers during a switch of providers.

Time period

2000 to 2005


United States

Location City/State/Province

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Location Description

Counties surrounding Bucknell University--Lewisburg and Milton, PA
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 5th segment

Segment Length

2 years

Notes on Methods

Student-run newspaper conducted research and published correspondence with the administration.


Bucknell Caucus for Economic Justice (BCEJ), Partnership for Unveiling Labor and Sweatshop Exploitation (PULSE) steering committee, later known as the Catalyst Collective.


Not known

External allies

Women's Association of Women's Alternatives (WAWA)

Involvement of social elites

Support of the college president in investigating minimum wage conditions


Bucknell University Budget Council

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

Not known

Repressive Violence

Not known


Economic Justice



Group characterization


Groups in 1st Segment

Bucknell University Students

Groups in 2nd Segment

Women's Association of Women's Alternatives (WAWA)

Segment Length

2 years

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

4 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

In 1999, Students at Bucknell University formed a group called the Bucknell Caucus for Economic Justice (BCEJ).  They took on research and conducted interviews to demonstrate the inferior conditions under which staff at Bucknell worked. In their research, the BCEJ consulted with the staff members at Bucknell University and discovered many incidents in which managers and supervisors infringed upon the rights of the staff members, often those in the lowest wage bracket. For example, a manager threatened a dining services worker that he would lose his job if he consulted with a union organizer. The university also distributed letters making similar threats. 

Students at Bucknell University had been writing a publication called The Catalyst since 1992.  In 2000, the BCEJ began to manage the paper in collaboration with another student social justice group, the Partnership for Unveiling Labor and Sweatshop Exploitation (PULSE). The two groups worked together on the newspaper and devoted it primarily to social and economic justice issues on campus. The paper published data from the groups’ independent research and displayed the results of interviews with staff members in order to raise campus awareness towards economic inequality in wages and treatment at Bucknell University.

Working in collaboration with the Women’s Association of Women’s Alternatives (WAWA), students in the BCEJ calculated what wages were necessary to support a dignified life in the three counties surrounding the university. They calculated these values for a typical household with two working parents and one or two children. They also conducted research to determine what a living wage would be for a single parent with one or two children to support. The students also showed that it would cost the university about $300,000 a year to bring all wages up to appropriate living wages and give basic benefits to all employees according to their status. This cost was marginal compared to the millions that the Budget Committee dedicated to paying faculty and buying new facilities for the school.

The BCEJ/PULSE movement wrote letters to the school’s president and vice president, and published the correspondence in The Catalyst. In the fall of 2001, the president gave verbal support to the group, saying that he admired their inquiry and respected the results of their research. On 25 January 2002, the Board of Trustees implied in their report of the budget plan for the academic year 2002-2003 that the school would increase wages for all employees of the university.

On 11 February 2002, the students in the BCEJ distributed their proposal for economic justice at Bucknell University to the entire campus, and also distributed paper copies of the proposal in the nineteenth volume of The Catalyst. It was also sent directly to the University’s Vice President of Administration and Finance, Jo-Anne Lema, who reviewed it for presentation to the Budget Administrators Roundtable on 13 February 2002.

The proposal demanded that Bucknell establish a University Fair Labor Committee (FLC), which would reserve places for three staff members to consult with the University on the wage and benefit policies. It also required the university to raise wages to a living wage standard for all staff employees and discontinue the distribution of anti-unionizing letters and related intimidation. Bucknell agreed to bring in an outside evaluator to assess the situation. The team worked with BCEJ/PULSE to determine appropriate wages for employees at the university, but the students continued their monitoring of the treatment of staff at Bucknell. 

In the spring of 2005, the University switched its Dining Services team to Parkhurst catering, which threatened the jobs and wages of many people who were employed with the previous company, Sodexho. In response to the change, students held a protest, bringing signs bearing slogans like “Injustice for a Buck(nell)”. In the fall, the students organized a worker appreciation day in the fall. They distributed meals, buttons and flowers to the workers to show their support.

The Catalyst Collective, a group mainly comprised of members of the BCEJ and PULSE, continued their campaign to guarantee that the University would protect the rights of the sixty-four staff members whose positions were endangered. The students drafted a petition protecting the rights of the dining hall staff. About two thousand students signed the petition, which the Catalyst Collective delivered to the president. Under pressure from the student body, the president agreed to preserve the jobs of all dining services workers who had been with the school for fifteen years or more.


The Bucknell University students were influenced by similar campaigns at Wesleyan University and Earlham College (1)
Bucknell students inspired movements at other colleges, including George Washington University.


Bucknell Catalyst, 2000-2002, Volumes 16, 18-20. http://fedora.bucknell.edu/home/

Student Worker Solidarity Center, "Bucknell Campaign Update" 2005. http://www.livingwageaction.org/campaigns_news_bucknell051114.htm

Student Worker Solidarity Resource Center http://www.livingwageaction.org/campaigns_news_bucknell051114.htm

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Lydia Bailey, 02/02/2013