Thursday, October 8, 2009

Working People in Poverty at the University of California

The University of California employs thousands of people to keep the business of educating California's young people running smoothly. These people work every day to keep the ten campuses that make up the UC system clean and safe. They are also responsible for feeding students, faculty, administrators and campus visitors. These people work hard every day as employees of the best public university system in the world. And far too many of them live in poverty.

96% of UC service workers qualify for at least one form of public assistance, whether it's food stamps or public housing subsidies. Wages are so low for these workers that many cannot afford to meet their basic family needs. And so they work two or even three jobs. With wages for middle and low-income workers falling in the past decade (otherwise known as the Bush Years) even as the price of energy, housing, education and health care continued to rise, even with two (or three) jobs, it's very tough to make ends meet. Meanwhile, California community colleges pay their service employees an average of twenty-five percent more than the University of California and Mark Yudof takes to the pages of the New York Times magazine to brag about the sacrifice that he takes a $10,000 per month housing stipend instead of living in the millionaire "UC president's mansion" which requires $8 million in renovations an repairs.

Everybody who works for a living should earn a living wage. No one who works a full-time job should be impoverished and unable to support a family. It is simply immoral. And it's unacceptable that the best public university system in the richest state of the richest country in the world perpetuates such immorality.

Some may object to paying all UC employees a living wage because of the current budget crisis in the state of California that has put a squeeze on public education. Of course, I do not presume to view this issue in isolation. A living wage for UC service workers goes along with the fight to restore democracy to California so that we can properly fund public education in this state once again. In addition, if you look at the salaries for the administrative/executive staff of the University of California, the disparities are massive whether or not you take the budget cuts into account.

For those who would object to a living wage for UC service workers and everyone else who works for a living on the basis of a free market type of argument, I would remind you that in this country we structure our markets morally and have done so for a very long time. Child labor is illegal because it is exploitation. Slavery was outlawed long ago. You can't physically abuse your employees, nor can you sexually harass them. By the same moral logic, we should not permit poverty wages. We can do better in the United States of America.

Hat tip to Marika Goodrich for bringing to my attention.

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