A student-organized campaign to raise wages for the lowest-paid workers at Colorado College has resulted in an official recommendation that, if adopted, could make the living-wage campaign one of the most successful of its kind in the nation.
A committee appointed to examine the wage issue released a report last week recommending that the private liberal-arts college pay its workers a minimum of $13.05 per hour, far above the starting wages of around $8 that some workers currently earn.
The Labor Practices Committee, made up of administrators, faculty, support staff and students, was created by former CC President Kathryn Mohrman and was reappointed by Richard Celeste, who became the college's president last July.
However, the administration isn't making any promises yet as to whether it will endorse the committee's proposal, which must ultimately be approved by the college's 28-member Board of Trustees.
"It's too early for me to give you a measured response," Celeste replied when asked this week how he felt about the recommendations.
However, Celeste said he agrees that the college's lowest-paid workers need to be paid more, and praised the committee for its "valuable work."
Greg Piesco-Putnam, a CC student and spokesman for the campus group Colorado College Fair Labor, said the wages proposed by the committee would place the college at the forefront of the "living-wage" movement that has swept the nation's cities and colleges in recent years.
Many other colleges and universities around the country have increased worker pay in response to student campaigns, but most have adopted minimum-pay levels in the range of $8.50 to $9 per hour, Piesco-Putnam said.
"We've gone farther than anyone else in the country," he said.
Set an example
The CC Fair Labor campaign got started in November of 2001 in response to concern that many campus workers were underpaid. The campaign particularly targeted workers employed by Sodexho, a large international corporation that provides the college's janitorial and food services.
According to reports released by the campaign last year, some Sodexho workers earned as little as $7.50 per hour less than the market average for their occupations, and less than what their colleagues earned at other colleges in Colorado Springs.
In its report issued last week, the Labor Practices Committee argues that CC should set an example by making sure all campus workers, including those employed by contractors, make a sufficient living.
"The College should ensure that every member of the community be able to live a dignified life," the report states.
Paying workers decent wages is also good business, argues Piesco-Putnam. "[If] you pay people higher wages, you get better quality of service," he said. It will also reduce employee turnover, he added.
The committee calculated that a "self-sufficiency wage" of $13.05 per hour would be required to make sure all workers can afford the costs of such basics as housing, food, child care, health care and transportation in Colorado Springs. Workers should be given a formal role in renegotiating that figure annually, the committee recommended.
To avoid a big immediate hit on the college's budget, the committee recommended phasing in such a minimum wage over a period of up to 10 years. That way, the college's $7.4-million staff budget would only increase a few percentage points per year, the committee estimated.
Count on cooperation
In addition to the approximately 120 Sodexho workers at CC, the proposal could affect many of the 300 support-staff workers directly employed by the college, such as staff assistants, administrative assistants and clerical workers.
Elizabeth Pudder, chairwoman of the CC Support Staff Advisory Committee, said she and others were pleased with the work of the Labor Practices Committee. "It has been well-received on campus."
Sodexho issued only a brief written statement in response to a request for comments, which read in part, "We haven't yet had time to closely review all of the committee's findings. ... Any decisions in regards to these recommendations will, of course, be made by Colorado College administration, and the campus can count on our continued cooperation."
Celeste said the recommendations would be taken into account when working out the college's budget for next year, which will be adopted by the Board of Trustees in May.
Meanwhile, Colorado College Fair Labor is gathering petitions on campus in support of the committee recommendations, which they will deliver to Celeste and the board.
"We're hoping to get the vast majority of the campus to sign," Piesco-Putnam said.
-- Terje Langeland