A Student-Led Movement for Campus Workers
Across the country, a labor shortage is transforming. At the University of Notre Dame, students are organizing to demand higher labor standards for campus workers.
Two undergraduate students, junior Edward Brunicardi and sophomore Bridget Schippers, co-founded the Raise the Standard Campaign this semester.
The campaign is calling on the university to implement what it calls a “just wage structure” for campus employees.
In just one week, the campaign has collected nearly 500 signatures for its Change.org petition.
In an emailed statement, university spokesperson Dennis Brown said, “The university is extremely proud of how it works together with its employees and is especially proud of the supportive steps we have taken throughout the pandemic. In addition to health and welfare precautions, this support was perhaps most evident in the swift, substantial and positive adjustments to compensation and benefits. These include increasing the starting minimum pay for non-exempt staff to $15 per hour, as well adding paid time off for extra holidays, sick days and family/caregiver leave days. And, in the next week, the University will provide substantial appreciation bonuses to full-time and part-time employees. As always, we will continue to reevaluate our total rewards package and make adjustments where they are needed.” statement from Dennis
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“These were needs that people had before COVID and before inflation got worse over the past few months,” Schippers said. “And so I can only think to the person who was struggling to live on their current wage six months ago, it’s becoming even more impossible now.”
The campaign was informed inspired by Clark Power, a professor of psychology and education, who has been researching worker wages for a number of years. Power reached out to students to translate this research into action.
The Raise the Standard Campaign has two arms, each tasked with a different mission. The research team is working behind the scenes, sifting through data and setting an empirically informed agenda, Brunicardi said.
“The research team is basically trying to research the issue — figuring out where the inequalities exist in our current wage structure at Notre Dame — and then [asking] what’s the standard we should be striving for,” Brunicardi said.
The advocacy team is the public-facing arm of the campaign. Raise the Standard’s advocates have served as liaisons. They intend to stay in touch with the group that they have pledged to serve, gathering statements and input from workers in the community. They are also responsible for relaying the information found by the research team.
The advocacy team, Brunicardi said, is sharing its message with people who have the power to make change — “talking to other people who would have a lot of influence like our administration and typically to persuade them.”
Workers are the center of the campaign, Brunicardi said. Raising the Standard is determined to remember that as they develop their agenda and push for change. Worker experiences inform the campaign’s research, Brunicardi added, helping them better understand the university’s complex wage structure.
“If we don’t know how our system operates, it’s hard to improve it,” Brunicardi said.
Other universities, such as Harvard, Georgetown, the University of Rochester, New York University and Johns Hopkins University, have made changes to working conditions on campus, similar to those the campaign has proposed.
“A lot of them saw increases in attendance or applications to the university,” Brunicardi said.
The campus minimum wage is especially important for low-income students, who rely on campus jobs to cover basic expenses. Although higher-paying jobs are available in the surrounding community, he added, low-income students often lack the resources needed to work off campus.
“Oftentimes, if it's in South Bend then you have to go out in the community to go work that job, and if you’re low income it’s hard to have a car,” Brunicardi said.
Fundamentally, the campaign asserts, Notre Dame and South Bend are inextricably connected; the university holds immense authority over the town and the way it functions.
“Notre Dame is the biggest employer in South Bend. And so we have to start to take on this responsibility,” Schippers said.
Notre Dame is responsible for raising the standard because they are often setting the standard. Since Notre Dame has such a large impact, they are able to change the caliber for the rest of the community.
“It’s not just enough to match whatever market wages are because we’re choosing the market wages,” Schippers said.
The university pushes Catholic virtues; students are expected to help others and make a difference on a global scale. With this in mind, the campaign argues they must learn to put their own words into practice, stressing that the people in the community must be taken care of and their problems must be taken seriously.
“The main goal of this campaign is making sure that we’re living up to those Catholic Social Teaching values, about making sure that we’re recognizing the dignity of work,” Schippers said.
Within the next year the school will be deciding on their strategic plan for the next ten years. Clubs and organizations should put it within their demands that the university makes it a requirement to treat their workers with dignity and create a living wage, instead of just a minimum wage. The backing of the students will help influence the school to do what is just.
“It gets to the point that we are capable of doing great things. So let’s actually do them,” Schippers said.
The Office of Student employment is attempting to move in the direction desired by the Raising the Standard campaign. Starting for newly employed students on May 1st or after they will be removing the three tier pay system basic, intermediate and skilled. Along with this, they will be raising the starting wage to $11.
Along similar lines, Dennis Brown has reported that a $15 minimum wage will be granted to all non-exempt staff. Besides the wage, employees will be given additional benefits: paid time off for extra holidays, sick days and family/caregiver days. Bonuses will also be distributed to both full and part time employees. The administration is planning to continue their analysis of their plan to see how to best treat their workers, which is along the lines of the campaign's goals.