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Bowdoin moves to $17 minimum wage for hourly workers

September 3, 2021

Ann Basu
THE WAGE HIKE IN CONTEXT: A look back at the Rally for a Living Wage in the spring of 2019 that brought together students, faculty and staff to demonstrate for higher hourly wages.

The College will raise the minimum wage for all hourly workers by $1.50—from $15.50 to $17.00 per hour—on Monday, September 6. This raise comes ten months ahead of Bowdoin’s 3-year plan, which had anticipated this wage increase by July, 2022.

Minimum wage at Bowdoin has steadily increased since 2018, when it was $12.65 an hour. The decision to expedite the process was made, in part, to combat the national regional labor shortage.

“The pandemic has had a profound impact in so many…unexpected ways in many cases,” said Bowdoin Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration & Treasurer Matthew Orlando.

“What we’ve seen is that our job applicant pools shrink to very low levels—levels that we have not seen before. There just aren’t a lot of job seeking, employment eligible individuals in Maine.”

Orlando believes that low applicant rates can be attributed to a number of factors related to the pandemic, as well as the pre-existing labor shortage in Maine compounded by child care shortages and school closings.

“Young adults are leaving Maine rather than staying here for jobs,” Orlando said. “Then, the pandemic just exacerbated things.”

The original plan to raise the wage over three years was introduced in the midst of a housekeeper-led movement highlighting relatively low wages compared to local janitors.

The movement included a student and faculty solidarity march with hourly staff and a statement of support by the Bowdoin Student Government. The effort culminated with the wage hike and an, ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at unionization by members of the housekeeping staff.

Orlando hopes that this increase will demonstrate the College’s support and appreciation of current employees, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“[President Rose] and I really wanted [employees] to feel appreciated, and so that was also part of the motivation to do this now, rather than wait,” Orlando said. “I know this is the right thing to do. I want them to feel valued and appreciated by us.”

Orlando believes that the lasting effects of the pandemic make it difficult to plan the future of the job market and related risks.

“This is the hardest period in my career, and I think in most people’s, to predict what happens next—we’re going to keep our eyes on things,” Orlando said. “We’re committed to staying at the top of the heap when it comes to wages and benefits locally and in Maine, and so we will move as needed, but we want to be on top of the competitive market.”

Editor’s Note, 9/3/21, 10:13 a.m.: A description of factors affecting the labor shortage attributed to Matthew Orlando, Bowdoin Senior Vice President for Finance, was edited to more accurately convey the original language. 

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