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CC boosts workers' wages 

Just two years ago, new janitors and food-service workers at Colorado College had to scrape by on a beginning wage of only $6.92 per hour.

Now, thanks to an 18-month campaign by student activists, low-wage workers at the private liberal-arts college earn a minimum of $9.64 per hour.

The new minimum wage went into effect July 1, after the college's board of trustees voted in May to adopt recommendations developed by the student-led CC Fair Labor campaign.

While many colleges around the country have adopted "living wage" standards for their workers in recent years, usually in response to student campaigns, CC is the first to implement a "self-sufficiency" wage, according to Greg Piesco-Putnam, a spokesman for the Fair Labor campaign.

The new starting wage was calculated as the minimum required to afford housing, food, transportation and other basic necessities for a family of four, with two income earners, living in Colorado Springs. The wage will grow annually to account for inflation.

"It's the right thing to do," Piesco-Putnam said. "The college should make sure everyone who works here makes enough money to live."

Most of the workers benefiting from the new wage work for Sodexho, a contractor that provides janitorial and food service for CC. David Lord, the college's business director, estimates that between 20 and 30 Sodexho workers have gotten raises, along with about half a dozen people who work directly for CC.

Much of the cost of the increased wages is being passed on to students. Student meal plans, Piesco-Putnam said, have gone up by $40 per year as a direct result.

"I haven't heard any complaints about that," Piesco-Putnam said.

While students at many other colleges have clashed with administrators in their efforts to raise workers' wages, CC's student campaign worked closely with faculty and administrators.

The students also compromised. Initially, they pushed for a minimum wage of more than $13 per hour, which they calculated as the "self-sufficiency" wage for a single income earner with one child. They agreed to settle for a self-sufficiency wage based on a two-income family, which is actually a more common scenario for Sodexho employees at CC, Piesco-Putnam said.

Sodexho, an international corporation with U.S. headquarters in Maryland, is also happy with the outcome. The higher wages will help the company recruit and retain good workers at CC, noted company spokeswoman Leslie Aun.

-- Terje Langeland

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