As Bowdoin students and faculty returned to Brunswick for the fall semester, they took in scenes typical of late summer at Bowdoin: well-manicured lawns, stately buildings, lobster for dinner and a welcome back message from President Clayton Rose, which this year included a note about pay for hourly employees.
In the annual email, sent to all employees and students of the College, Rose announced that the staff responsible for keeping the lawns green and the food tasty—namely the housekeepers, groundskeepers and dining staff—would be receiving wage increases.
While the College conducts reviews of wages every year, Rose said that his office brought in additional data points this summer after an Orient report found that many hourly earners struggle to make ends meet.
The changes announced by Rose include an increase in pay for second and third-shift hours. First shift runs 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; second shift is 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and third shift is 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Wages for hours worked during second shift increased from seven percent more than the worker’s hourly pay to 10 percent, while third shift extra pay increased from 10 percent to 15 percent on top of normal hourly pay.
Rose noted that only 40 percent of Maine employers offer their employees differentiated shift pay.
Weekend pay increased from an extra $0.80 per hour to an extra $1 per hour. The College also adopted an already-planned increase of $0.25 to a Bowdoin employee’s minimum starting wage.
In his email, Rose affirmed that the College leads among Maine employers with respect to its wages and benefits for hourly employees.
“The conclusion [of the review] is that Bowdoin’s compensation program is at the very top of the list of Maine employers, providing highly competitive hourly wages and an unmatched comprehensive benefits program,” he wrote. “This is as it should be—our hourly colleagues are essential to making the College what it is, and they earn this market-leading compensation program.”
However, some in the community remain unhappy with the president’s response.
“I feel like they just had to do something to keep us quiet,” said housekeeper Sandy Green, who has been with the College for over ten years and penned an Op-Ed for the Orient in May. “Why should we compare ourselves to [places like] McDonald’s, anyways?”
Bowdoin, as one of the largest employers in Cumberland County, bases its pay scale on that of employers in the area who also hire hourly workers. Some students in the community believe that this devalues some of the more universal values that Bowdoin champions.
“Bowdoin is not an insignificant player within the local business [market], and yet they’re setting their pay rates at the same rate as a housekeeper working for a private company in Falmouth. That doesn’t espouse the Common Good,” said Benjamin Ray ’20, a student member of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance. “This means that everything is market driven, without accounting for the quality of employees’ lives.”
Additionally, some Bowdoin employees have argued that the second shift and third shift changes don’t significantly affect the money they see in their biweekly paychecks.
Housekeepers, for example, often work from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The hours between 5 and 7 a.m. are part of third shift and have therefore seen a higher bump in pay than was expected. However, the rest of their hours are part of the first shift.
Employees often have the chance to pick up more work in the second and third shifts, but not always.
According to Diego Grossmann ’20, another student member of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance, “the workers generally don’t work a second or third shift, because they told us they’re already so tired. So for the College to present this as a big change—it’s so ridiculous; it’s so sinister.”
Rose, though, has come out strongly against this characterization.
“To reiterate what I said in my note to the community, our hourly workers are an essential part of the College, amazing colleagues and they make the College go,” he said. “Our goal is to make certain that they are compensated at the top end of the range for the region and for Maine, in wages and in benefits. After the review that we did this summer to affirm that, I am completely confident that that’s where our workers are now. We’ll continue to do those kinds of reviews as we have every year.”
Green, who is currently on medical leave from her post, said the changes have not significantly impacted either her life or the lives or her colleagues.
“Yes, I am very happy with the changes to the second and the third shift,” she said. “But, that doesn’t help any of us that have been there, even within the last five years, because only the starting pay went up. It helped a few, which is very nice. But it doesn’t solve the problem of treating your employees with a little bit of respect … It’s just so unfair.”
Ray and Grossmann, alongside Sarisha Kurup ’21, argue that despite these changes and these words from Rose, frustration about this issue continues to exist on campus. However, this discontent has not yet materialized in widespread activism on campus.
“I’m always a little surprised by the lack of student voices in this fight and similar fights that need to happen around campus,” Ray said. “It feels like for a campus that prides itself on its progressiveness, students are pretty unwilling to take action … Until this is a coalition of workers, students, faculty, staff that are all using whatever they bring to the table for the cause, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Green echoed a similar sentiment.
“Some of us feel like we’ve done our part, we have to keep our jobs, and now it’s up to other people to take the reins,” she said.