Unpaid labor: an ongoing dialogue
April 14, 2023
In the two weeks since our initial opinion piece, many questions have sprung up around campus: How will people be paid? What qualifies as unpaid labor? Does Bowdoin have the money to pay these people?
Our campaign has two main demands: first, the payment of unpaid workers who are essential to Bowdoin’s image and welfare, and second, compensation for unlogged student and staff hours.
This campaign is not arguing that all unpaid student labor should be paid. Within any community, there is an expectation that certain activities—such as clubs—are run for the pleasure of community-building alone. As it stands, however, not all unpaid labor done for the College falls within these bounds.
Certain work, such as running an affinity group or planning an alternative spring break trip, goes above and beyond the requirements of a typical extracurricular. Bowdoin uses the labor of these students as advertisement—affinity events, orientation trips and the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) are all essential parts of the College’s image. Bowdoin relies on unpaid labor to provide vital services on campus, like fostering diverse spaces or providing wellness services. Through the unpaid labor of these students, the College cultivates its image as equitable, diverse and fun.
Paying these students is feasible, and the College already pays for similar types of labor on campus. Students working at the Craft Center, which is officially recognized as a club, are paid. These students are able to choose their own hours, put on events as they see fit, report the times they work to the administration and then receive compensation for their time worked. This system gives students agency over the work they do and the activities they put on—while still being compensated. We propose this model of payment for unpaid laborers like affinity group leaders, religious organization leaders and BOC officers.
The College has already acknowledged that not paying positions is a barrier to equity. The Center for Career Exploration and Development’s unpaid internship program, for example, operates on the assumption that a student’s financial status should not inhibit their ability to take unpaid positions over the summer. As it stands, socioeconomic status is a barrier to students’ abilities to take unpaid positions on campus. Working-class students are placed in a double-bind: in order to take an unpaid position, they have to choose between overworking themselves or sacrificing their academics, social life or paid positions. The effects of compensating these positions will ripple out far beyond the individual students who receive pay; by creating a more equitable distribution of labor, the entire College will prosper.
As our campaign moves forward, the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA) remains open and interested in communicating with the administration to find other strategies to ensure compensation for all unpaid laborers whose work is essential to the welfare and image of the College. However, adequate compensation of labor on campus does not end when the College begins to compensate its affinity group leaders, Alternative Spring Break Trip leaders, BOC officers and other essential workers. Bowdoin must create a recurring space for students, faculty and staff to discuss their payment and working conditions with the administration—a space crafted with the expectation that voicing these concerns will result in material change.
Please join the BLA and all of the underpaid and unpaid laborers on campus as we continue this campaign. To do so, ask your friends about the work they do for the College, sign our petition and join the BLA. We look forward to the adequate compensation of all laborers on campus and to the establishment of a forum for all laborers to discuss their working conditions with the administration.
Sam Cooper and Rachel Klein are members of the Class of 2024 and members of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance.
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