Students and staff at the College of William and Mary campaign for higher wages for housekeepers 2010-2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
September
2010
to
September
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Williamsburg, Virginia
Location Description: 
The campus of the College of William and Mary
Goals: 
The goal of the students and staff was to gain a wage of $15 per hour for housekeeping workers at the College of William and Mary.
 

Beginning in 1999 and lasting into 2001, students at William and Mary and members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee (TSLC) carried out what they called a "Living Wage Campaign," during which they protested and petitioned the school’s administration to raise the salary for housekeepers employed by the college. The campaigners declared victory after the administration conceded to raising wages of the housekeepers to $8.29 per hour, which was far from their original goal, and ceased their campaign in 2001.

Between the years 2000 and 2010, other student groups at colleges and universities across America campaigned to raise the wages of underpaid college employees, such as foodservice workers and housekeepers. These campaigns were conducted at schools including Arizona State University, Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, Harvard University, Northwestern University, and the University of Georgia. Although there were campaigns across the nation with higher levels of success than the one at William and Mary, during those years, members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee did not launch a major campaign at the school.

Beginning with the economic recession in America in 2007, the College froze all wages. On 4 March 2010 approximately 40 students, faculty, and staff from the College of William and Mary held a rally during which members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee and the Virginia Organizing Project gave speeches protesting state-legislature-induced budget cuts affecting the College of William and Mary as well as other Virginia state colleges.

During the rally, the Tidewater Labor Support Committee also held a bake sale fundraiser, and they then sent their earnings from the bake sale in a check to the Virginia state legislature demonstrating their attempts to generate revenue to support the state’s public school system, and calling on the Virginia state government to do the same. At the end of the rally, the Tidewater Labor Support Committee declared that they would fight the layoffs and low wages of employees that these budget cuts created.

The members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee came back from the summer break determined to honor their commitment to improving the wages of the support staff at the College with a focused plan of action. On 9 September 2010, students from the Tidewater Labor Support Committee along with some Residence Life Workers met with the Associate Director of Residence Life of William and Mary, and demanded that the College of William and Mary fill the openings in the housekeeping staff left vacant by the departure of the temporary summer workers. They argued that the shortened staff increased the demands placed on the housekeeping workers, who were not compensated fairly for their extra time and work.

Students members of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee then revealed to the Daily Hat Newspaper that this was the first step in their plan to bring better working conditions and pay to the housekeeping staff on campus through three goals that they had identified in a meeting the previous week: to have a full staff of Residence Life workers year-round, to increase wages for those workers, and to reform the system by which Residence Life workers were hired and promoted.

The students and residence life workers expressed concerns that although the average wage of residence life workers, between $9 and $11 per hour, was around the $9.95 per hour calculated by the "Poverty in America: A Living Wage Calculator" to be the living wage, it was well below the $18.49 per hour calculated to be the living wage for one adult and one dependent child in Williamsburg.

The delegation of students and workers also expressed concerns over the poor working conditions of the workers over the previous summer, including lack of access to water, high temperatures, and forced overtime.

On 24 September 2010, students from the Tidewater Labor Support Committee attended an open forum with the President of the College of William and Mary, Taylor Reveley, as well as Rector Henry Wolf, and asked them questions about the work level and salaries of the housekeeping workers. Students suggested that some of the money from Reveley’s salary, roughly 20 times that of the average housekeeping worker, be reallocated to provide a small boost to the workers most in need.

Reveley responded by saying that his salary was low compared to the presidents of other Virginia Colleges and that the wages of the housekeepers at William and Mary were higher than those at most Virginia Colleges, and reminded the students that no employee at the College had received a wage increase over the past five years.

During that same week, four workers and three students from the Tidewater Labor Support Committee met with Vice President for Administration Anna Martin and Vice President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler, and the same day as the meeting William and Mary Residence Life began hiring temporary workers to fill its vacancies while initiating an interview process for hiring permanent workers to fill those spaces.

Emboldened by the Administration’s cooperation, the Tidewater Labor Support Committee revised their goals to include the demand of a starting wage of $15 per hour as well as a retroactive $0.50 raise for every year of employment at the college. They presented these revised demands to the College Administration on 4 October 2010, by marching from the Crim Dell Meadow to a meeting between President Reveley and the College’s Board of Visitors in Blow Hall.

Marchers included members from the Tidewater Labor Support Committee, the Student Environment Action Coalition, the Student group I-faith, and housekeeping workers, and before marching this group declared that they would form a unified protest group, known as the "Livable Wage Coalition," and continue the campaign that had been abandoned at the school nine years previously.

When President Reveley emerged after his meeting from Blow Hall, the marchers presented him with a letter stating the complaints of the Livable Wage Coalition, as well as oral complaints from the housekeeping workers.

Reveley addressed the crowd, saying he was glad that they had come to present their concerns to him, and that he looked forward to starting a conversation regarding those concerns.

On 14 October the Coalition presented a Workers Speak event. Three housekeeping workers explained how low levels of pay affected their lives. Roughly 100 students, faculty and staff attended the event, including President Reveley, who was present in the audience but did not speak. Professor Cindy Hahamovitch, a history and labor expert at the college, concluded the event by giving a brief overview of the history of the Tidewater Labor Support Committee and its involvement in previous attempts to improve staff wages at the college.

After the event, KB Brower, a student in the class of 2011 and a leader of the Livable Wage Coalition, declared that the Coalition had long-terms plans to push for the increase of wages until they were achieved.

One week later, on 21 October 2010, members of the Coalition including students, staff, and faculty met in the Wren Courtyard to hand deliver petitions and letters to President Reveley calling for higher wages for the college’s housekeeping workers. Reveley met with the assembly and received the petitions and letters.

The Livable Wage Coalition next took action on 18 November 2011, holding a rally to protest the low wages of housekeeping workers. Roughly 100 students, staff, and faculty members attended the rally, chanting and holding signs. A spokesperson for the administration said that the housekeeping workers would receive a one time bonus equal to 3% of their salary approved by the Virginia state legislature, but that salaries would not be changed until the college had developed a new funding model.

After the November rally, students were occupied with exams and winter break. The Coalition resumed action in January when KB Brower, a leader of the coalition, declared they would escalate its tactics if need be.

On 24 February 2011 the Coalition and the national organization United Students Against Sweatshops, of which the Coalition was a member, presented the working community of William and Mary with an award for their "10 year struggle for living wages." At the award presentation, students and workers gave speeches in William and Mary’s Sadler Center while an Appreciation Brunch was served.

Over the month of March, the Livable Wage Coalition petitioned and gained endorsements from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the local chapter of the Student Environmental Action Coalition, the local chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and the local firefighters organization. On Friday 18 March, students from the Living Wage Coalition put up a mural made by the Coalition in front of the Sadler Center, a main building on campus.

That night, administrators took the mural down, as the metal poles used to hold it up were deemed a safety hazard according to the Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Constantine.

The next week, on Wednesday and Thursday the Livable Wage Coalition protested the removal of the mural in Wren Courtyard, passing out flyers and talking to students.

The administration then allowed the students to put the mural back up in a designated space. The Coalition held a march to move the mural from the Sadler Center to its new allocated space, and handed out flyers for a planned walkout.

On 3 April, the Livable Wage Coalition held a campus-wide walkout, in which at a designated time students across campus left class to demonstrate support for the Housekeeping workers. The Coalition emphasized to the students and to faculty that the walkouts were not meant to be disrespectful to teachers.

Over the next two weeks, the Livable Wage Campaign escalated its actions. On 15 April, the students interrupted a meeting between President Reveley and the College of William and Mary board of visitors by chanting and banging on walls until they were admitted to the meeting. Twelve students and two workers handed out proposals for budget changes to the board members and President while student leaders Maggie Russolello and Katie Dalby argued with President Reveley. After speaking with board members for some time, the students and workers left the meeting.

On 20 April, students from the Coalition occupied President Reveley’s office at 9:00 AM. The Coalition called on College students as well as other member groups of the United Students Against Sweatshops to call or email President Reveley asking that he include a salary of $15 per hour for housekeeping workers in the next year’s budget. Roughly 30 people attended the sit in, and Professors Jennifer Bickhan-Mendez and Cindy Hahanovitch gave a teach-in on the history of the fight for living wages.

President Reveley abandoned his office around 2:00 PM after students began chanting and reading workers’ stories out loud. Around 2:30 PM, the students were threatened with code of conduct violations by several deans, and all of the occupiers left except for students Maggie Russolello, KB Brower, Addie Alexander, Katie Dalby, and Emily Glasson and the lawyer for the Livable Wage Coalition, Paul Fallafella.

These five students gave a speech to a crowd gathered outside of the window to the President’s office against the orders of the deans around 4 PM. The deans requested that the students leave the office several more times throughout the night, until police arrested the students for trespassing at 1 AM the next morning.

The College of William and Mary punished these students by giving them code of conduct violations.They were also sentenced in court to perform 8 hours of community service.

On 21 April the Livable Wage Coalition called on other students and other members of the United Students Against Sweatshops organizations to petition President Reveley to drop all charges against the students. However, this attempt was unsuccessful.

The arrests halted the actions of the students, and the Livable Wage Coalition did not meet their goal of raising the housekeeping workers’ wages to $15 dollars an hour by the end of the semester. That summer, three major leaders of the Livable Wage Coalition, Dalby, Brower, and Alexander, graduated.

Although Russolello and Glasson vowed to continue activity the next fall, they acknowledged that it would be difficult to maintain momentum over the summer, and Russolello and Glasson were both threatened with suspension the next September for delivering a letter asking for living wages to be incorporated into the next Board of Visitors meeting to the President’s empty office.

Further efforts of the Livable Wage Coalition at the College of William and Mary changed from targeting the specific goals of helping the housekeeping workers to campaigning for broader goals.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The students were influenced by a similar living wage campaign taking place at the University of Virginia during the same time period, as well as a campaign that occurred earlier in the 2000s at Georgetown University and a campaign that occurred from 1998-2001 at the College of William and Mary. (1)

Sources: 
"Faculty, Staff, and Students Demonstrate Against Budget Cuts." The Flat Hat News [Williamsburg, VA] 16 Mar. 2010: n. pag. The Flat Hat News Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

"ResLife Workers and Students are Campaigning Together to End Worker Injustice." The Flat Hat News [Williamsburg, VA] 9 Sept. 2010: n. pag. The Flat Hat News Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

"Reveley Talks to TLSC." The Flat Hat News [Williamsburg, VA] 4 Oct. 2010: n. pag. The Flat Hat News Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

"LWC Mural Removed From Terrace." The Flat Hat News [Williamsburg, VA] 25 Mar. 2011: n. pag. The Flat Hat News Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

"Students Voice Opinions at Campus Forum." The Flat Hat News [Williamsburg, VA] 24 Sept. 2010: n. pag. The Flat Hat News Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

"Living Wage Members Face Code of Conduct Violations." The Flat Hat News [Williamsburg, VA] 23 Sept. 2011: n. pag. The Flat Hat News Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Kennedy , Amber L. "Arrested William and Mary Students to Complete Community Service." Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily [Williamsburg, VA] 3 June 2011: n. pag. Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

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Crummett, Dustin. "Rally to Restore Sanity On Campus." The Dog Street Journal [Williamsburg, VA] 23 Nov. 2010: n. pag. The Dog Street Journal Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Vaughn, Tyra. "William and Mary students hold rally to protest employee pay." The Daily Press [Williamsburg, VA] 18 Nov. 2010: n. pag. The Daily Press Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Vaughn, Tyra. "Living Wage campaign has more problems than workers comp." The Virginia Informer [Williamsburg, VA] 1 Dec. 2010: n. pag. The Virginia Informer Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Remmers, Vanessa. "Reveley Challenges Living Wage Coalition to Consider Facts." The Flat Hat [Williamsburg, VA] 15 Apr. 2011: n. pag. The Flat Hat Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Mills, Curt. "The truth behind William and Mary's Living Wage Coalition." The Virginia Informer [Williamsburg, VA] 18 Dec. 2010: n. pag. The Virginia Informer Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Russolello, Maggie. "Support the Sit-In at William and Mary! It's time to pay a living wage!." United Students Against Sweatshops. United Students Against Sweatshop, 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 26 Feb.

O'Sullivan, TJ. "Living Wage Coalition Members Arrested, Removed from President's office." The Virginia Informer [Williamsburg, VA] 20 Apr. 2011: n. pag. The Virginia Informer Archives. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Tom McGovern 02/03/2014