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Bowdoin alumni: withhold donations to call for a living wage

April 19, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the authors.
Molly Kennedy

As recent alumni, our lives continue to be shaped by what Bowdoin taught us: the value of critical thinking and connection to place, and a desire to work towards the Common Good in our own ways. While it’s easy to think of the students and professors that made our experiences possible, the support we received from housekeeping staff was just as integral to our success.

From our first days on campus until we crossed the stage at graduation, housekeeping staff made Bowdoin more than a school, but a home. Some even welcomed us into their homes or became our friends. The work that housekeepers do every day allowed us to learn and grow. Now it’s time for us to support them.

In May 2018, an Orient investigation revealed that many workers struggle to make ends meet. Some shared stories of visiting the food pantry or eating the leftover food they found at work. Others shared that they are unable to put money towards savings, making them vulnerable to financial emergencies. Under the current wage policy, many hourly staff must work extra jobs on top of their full-time employment to supplement Bowdoin’s low pay.

Students, faculty, staff and alumni responded, forming the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA), a student-staff collaborative that continues to fight for a living wage. At graduation last May, 1,500 people wore yellow ribbons in solidarity with staff, and in just one month, nearly 1,000 people signed a petition demanding:

1. A living wage for all workers

2. The establishment of a working group to find tangible means of achieving this goal

3. Making funding for a living wage a priority in budgeting and fundraising efforts

For four months, the College was silent. In September, President Rose professed Bowdoin’s commitment to its hourly employees, citing a minimum starting wage increase which workers described as arbitrary and insufficient. From Portland to Millinocket, Pennsylvania to Peru, we have watched with frustration as the College has failed to take meaningful action.

BLA has shown that a $15 starting wage is fully realistic.   The cost of this wage increase would amount to less than 10 percent of the cost of the College’s new football field, a drop in the bucket for Bowdoin’s $1.6 billion endowment.

But for staff, a starting wage of $15 could mean “not just working, eating and sleeping.” It could allow them to buy healthier groceries or “visit family [they] haven’t seen in years.”

In April, workers wrote a letter detailing the need for alumni involvement in the fight for a living wage. It states, “the Bowdoin Community will listen to you more than to housekeepers. We were the ones involved with you, speaking to you, cheering you on. We need your help on this one.”

Bowdoin alumni are deeply loyal and more engaged than most. Whether we’re in Boston or Seattle, we stop to greet each other when we spot Polar Bear hats. We go out of our way to help fellow alumni find everything from careers to couches to sleep on. Every year, we flock in hundreds to Homecoming and Reunion weekends.

Today, we must extend this loyalty to all members of the Bowdoin community. Faced with almost a year of apathy from the College, it is clear that our signatures are not enough; at a place like Bowdoin, money talks. Since the administration refuses to listen to students and staff demanding a living wage, we will make our voices heard by withholding donations this BowdoinOne Day.

We encourage current seniors and alumni to sign our pledge and promise not to donate to Bowdoin until the College implements a $15/hour living wage policy that takes into account the livelihood and dignity of its full-time workers and allows them to lead lives of financial security.

Our intent is not to starve Bowdoin of funds, as our large endowment surely prevents— but rather to send the message that alumni will continue raising our voices against the College’s current treatment of staff until it pays workers enough to live. For now, alumni who want to make a point of including workers in their support of the College can donate to an alternative discretionary fund for housekeepers, which alumni will manage with worker input.

For a full account of our community’s work to support a living wage, click here.

Julia Berkman-Hill is a member of the Class of 2017. Sydney Avitia-Jacques, Diana Furukawa and Jonah Watt are members of the Class of 2018. 

Comments

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7 comments:

  1. Sandy Green says:

    I would love to thank everyone that is involved with this. It means so much to our department. It is awesome to see all the support that we are getting. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

    Sandy Green

  2. Class of 2019 says:

    Where can we find the pledge ?

  3. Guest says:

    How does the new discretionary fund differ from what Bowdoin already does with the Staff Emergency Assistance Fund: https://www.bowdoin.edu/hr/benefits-perks/other-benefits/staff-emergency-fund.html

    • Sydney Avitia-Jacques says:

      Great question! Before setting up the new fund, we talked with workers to see if the Paller fund would be a helpful option for them. They told us that after going through an application process, the most a worker can receive from the Paller fund in times of emergency is $500. Especially the $5,000 deductible on their health insurance, that barely scratches the surface – and they can only use it once during their time working for Bowdoin. So, we needed a better option.

  4. Diana Maria Rossi says:

    Holy Nellie! These Bowdoin workers have a 5000 dollars health insurance deductible? Or is that a typo? In any event, no one should have to work for less than 15 dollars an hour in this country— that’s about 32,000 a year at 40 hours per week. And housekeeping is hard work!

    • Ben Ray says:

      Well, it’s a little complicated but bear with me!

      Bowdoin offers three plans, a PPO and HDHPs 1 and 2. The high deductible health plans (HDHPs) are cheaper per month, and for workers strapped for cash are often the only thing hourly staff can afford. However, as the name implies, their deductibles are insanely high compared to the PPO. The 5k number mentioned above is for a worker and their family on HDHP2 (the cheapest plan per month.) But, that full deductible might be close to a quarter of a worker’s yearly take-home income!! For comparison, a professor and their family on the PPO who pays their full $1000 deductible would only use .7% of their yearly income of 146k.

      The disparity is real, and for a worker to afford the PPO for their family it’s $398 per month. A professor with a higher income pays $465 per month, but their salary is 6 times that of an hourly worker. Bowdoin should have a sliding scale of insurance costs so low-wage workers aren’t hit so hard with disproportionate monthly rates and extreme deductibles.


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