Western Michigan University students campaign for a living wage, United States, 2006-2007


To win wages of $9.50 an hour with health insurance or $10.50 an hour without health insurance for employees.

Time period

4 April, 2006 to December, 2007


United States

Location City/State/Province

Kalamazoo, Michigan
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • "Best Paid Administrator" award

Methods in 5th segment

Segment Length

Approximately 1.5 months


Living Wage Campaign Coalition


Kalamazoo Homeless Action

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Not known


The University administration, Commercial Sanitation Management

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

Not known

Repressive Violence

Not known


Economic Justice



Group characterization


Groups in 1st Segment


Segment Length

Approximately 1.5 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

0 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


0 out of 3 points

Total points

1 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

In 2004, Western Michigan University outsourced its custodial labor to a private company called Commercial Sanitation Management. The contract cut costs for the university by $1.1 million dollars a year and eliminated 58 positions. Commercial Sanitation Management did not pay what the national living wage movement deemed a living wage: $9.50 an hour with health insurance or $10.50 without health insurance. 

A student group known as the Living Wage Campaign decided to push for that level of pay for campus workers. The group initially worked to raise awareness and negotiated with administrators.

At 10:30 am on Tuesday, 4 April 2006, the Living Wage Campaign Coalition and the Kalamazoo Homeless Action had an action at the Presidents office to award President Bailey the “Best Paid Administrator Award,” and gave her a giant $7 check, the hourly wage of custodians.  They distributed living wage cupcakes to the administration and administrative assistants, and held a dance party in the office before being asked to leave by the campus police. They left the massive $7 check taped to the wall.

In 2007, the Living Wage Campaign proposed its living wage measure for consideration to the board of trustees. They presented their arguments to the board on 11 October 2007.

The Living Wage Campaign Coalition held an online survey of Western Michigan University Students before the election to gauge student opinion about the proposal. 1800 students responded of the student body of approximately 20,000. Seventy-five percent of the responding students supported living wages, but two thirds of the students did not support paying for living wages with an additional $100 in room and board fees.

In December 2007, the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees voted 7 to 1 against giving custodians a living wage- $9.50 with health insurance or $10.50 without health insurance. The board of trustees agreed with the students’ concern over fair wages, but criticized the inflexibility of the provision, which required ten days of both paid sick leave and paid vacation. They also said that the entire budget for residence halls comes from student fees, which the vast majority students responding to the Living Wage Campaigns’ survey opposed raising. The Living Wage Campaign at Western Michigan University ended after this defeat.


Living Wage Campaigns throughout the United States


Brie Phillips. “Putting some 'moves' into Western Michigan's Living Wage Campaign.” Living Wage Action Coalition. 5 April 2006. Accessed 15 March 2013. http://www.livingwageaction.org/tour_updates_wmich060405.htm

DAVIS, PAULA M. WMU students concerned about custodians' wages. Kalamazoo Gazette. 11 October, 2007

DAVIS, PAULA M. WMU to tackle 'living wage' for contracted custodians. Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 December, 2007.

DAVIS, PAULA M. WMU trustees vote against living-wage proposal. Kalamazoo Gazette 15 December, 2007.
WMU students campaign for 'living wage' for custodians. Grand Rapids Press. 15 October, 2007

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Jonathan White, 04/04/2013