Notre Dame University students fight for campus workers' rights, 2005-2008

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
It is not clear when the campaign ended. The last action in the news was in February of 2008.
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
South Bend, Indiana
Location Description: 
Notre Dame University
To help workers to have a voice in the "Notre Dame Family," and for administration to treat all as equal members of the community

To attain a living salary, one suited to a family of four, of $12.10/hour for all workers on campus

To get President Father Jenkins to publicly commit to paying a living wage

To create a task force of workers, faculty, students, and administration to address workers' issues and to develop a "just employment" policy


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.

A student named Kamaria Porter founded the group that came to be known as the Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP). They built alliances with campus workers, faculty, and alumni and established their goals early on. They demanded that workers have the ability to voice their opinions, free from a fear of being fired, and that they be treated as equal members of the community. In addition, they asked that the president of the Notre Dame, Father John Jenkins, make a public announcement on the principle of a living wage. Finally, they asked that Fr. Jenkins agree to the creation of a task force, a team of administrators, faculty, workers and students, who would address workers' issues and develop a "just employment" policy.

At the end of September 2005, the group hosted its Inaugural Assembly during which they outlined the work already put into establishing this campaign and developing further strategy. By 8 March 2006, CLAP had constructed an 11-page report, which they presented to the top University administrators outlining their goals. The next day, they encouraged students to sign their online petition, which had already gained 433 names. This was in addition to another petition sent around on campus that had 500 names out of the 8500 enrolled. The group aimed to be at 1,600 names by Easter—40 names for every day of the Lenten season. This would represent the ideals being taught at Notre Dame, rooted in Catholic social teaching.

On 31 March 2006, students in CLAP met with Fr. Jenkins and other University administrators to discuss the report. The students were discouraged from pursuing the campaign and were told that a living wage was an issue between the University and its workers—not students.

A few weeks later, on 19 April, John Affleck-Graves, executive Vice President of the University of Notre Dame, released a statement that said that he believed that the wages and compensation packages that each worker received met the test of their marketplace. Affleck-Graves also announced that this compensation met their special obligations as a Catholic university. He announced a forthcoming hotline that would allow for confidential reporting of employee mistreatment and grievances. He denounced the necessity of a task force, as it would be unnecessary with the current channels of communication that were already in place. Affleck-Graves did recognize the right of the workers to unionize though he felt that there was nothing that a union could accomplish that the University was not already willing to do. Finally, he asserted that the Notre Dame system was fair and just, unlike the CLAP report implied.

By 2 May 2006, frustrated with the administration’s response, students staged a sit-in outside of Jenkins' office, presenting him with a petition signed by more than 1,300 supporters. This sit-in was scheduled to last only an hour and was supposed to consist of 12 students but wound up lasting the whole day and had multiple students filtering in and out throughout that time. CLAP wanted to meet with Jenkins to discuss the formation of a task force to evaluate the University's wage policies.

Jenkins refused to meet with the group at that time but gave a speech about Catholic social teaching.

In the beginning of the next semester, 14 September 2006, CLAP member Nick Krafft announced that the students were still campaigning. To this point they had succeeded in three areas: firstly, they had managed to get the management to send out an extensive questionnaire to all workers in order for them to evaluate its role as an employer. Secondly, the administration agreed to have a hotline run by a third party neutral company so that workers could report their grievances without fear of being fired. Thirdly, the administration agreed to make workers feel more a part of the campus by starting town hall meetings in which new University developments would be discussed.

On 26 February 2007, CLAP members delivered copies of the "living wage report 2007" to administrators but it is unclear if the administration responded to this new report or what further action was taken. What started off as a living wage campaign by the CLAP members expanded into education about related issues like unionization. On 31 October 2008, CLAP started an education campaign and collected signatures in support of a union for Notre Dame workers. Employees, however, were still afraid to unionize for fear of being fired. On 17 February 2008, CLAP held a demonstration presenting 500 signatures on union support cards which were given to the facilities center. The students also held a march in support of labor unions.

The administrators of Notre Dame recognized the right of their employees to unionize and stated that if they do vote to have a union, the University will bargain with it “in good faith.” CLAP members wanted an answer that would put workers at ease that they would not be penalized or fired for the formation of a union. Increased numbers of workers signing union cards indicated that many workers were in favor of the formation of a union, however it seems that the workers were never able to create one. The wage never changed; workers continued working under the same conditions that existed before the campaign, and they did not unionized.

Research Notes

The Notre Dame students were influenced by living wage campaigns going on at Havard University, Yale University and Georgetown University. (1)

The Observer: Top College News. University of Notre Dame. February 3, 2013

Notre Dame Magazine. University of Notre Dame. February 3rd, 2013.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Alexis Dziedziech, 04/02/2013