The College knows that members of Bowdoin’s house- and groundskeeping staff regularly struggle to make ends meet, as we reported this week in the Orient. In addition, the Orient has learned that workers in dining make similarly low wages. According to Tama Spoerri, vice president for human resources, “The people in dining are the same as the housekeepers … They’re in the same pay scales.” For many of the staff members who make our lives at Bowdoin so comfortable, wages are insufficient and finances are painfully tight. The College could alleviate some of this financial hardship, but it chooses not to. This must change.
In interviews with the Orient, Spoerri and Matt Orlando, treasurer and senior vice president for finance and administration, explained that Bowdoin does not take into account cost of living and its workers’ ability to make ends meet when setting wages. Instead, the compensation of its employees is based on the cold, unfeeling logic of the labor market.
This treatment speaks to a basic lack of empathy for these members of our community and an undervaluation of their work, which keeps the College running. Our staff members should not feel the need to scavenge food from locker rooms. They should not have to frequent the food bank, and they should not worry about paying their bills each month. They should not have to work multiple jobs to support their families. In short, they should not struggle to achieve the quality of life that the College dedicates so many resources towards supporting in other communities through Alternative Spring and Winter Breaks, McKeen Center Orientation Trips and routine service opportunities. This week’s investigation reveals that the College’s wage structure perpetuates the same injustices in our own community that its students work to oppose in others.
According to Orlando, the budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year cannot be altered.
Wages, for the most part, are set. However, the budget process for the 2019-2020 fiscal year begins next fall. It is imperative that the College take swift action to implement a living wage policy for all employees by the beginning of the of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
To this end, we recommend simple steps of action. The College should convene a working group composed of employees, students and administrators to study what such a policy would look like and how it could be achieved. The working group should begin by interviewing employees about their expenses, studying local markets and consulting labor experts to determine what wage it takes to make ends meet. The group should then propose a feasible path towards implementing a living wage, whether that be a reallocation of budgetary funds or a capital campaign.
We know that there is not an easy, readily-available fix. The issues outlined in the piece are caught up in a whole matrix of problems surrounding the corporatization of institutions of higher learning around the country. But the College—the same college that can and does mobilize enormous sums of money for financial aid, for the creation of new programming for students, for new facilities for sports teams, for new buildings and new properties—is obligated to make a change. If such a change isn’t in the service of the Common Good, we don’t know what is.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Harry DiPrinzio, Dakota Griffin, Calder McHugh and Ian Ward.