Minimum wage increase came after years of struggle – The Bowdoin Orient

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On August 26, 2021, Bowdoin College announced it would raise the minimum wage to $ 17 an hour for hourly workers ten months earlier than planned. According to senior vice president of finance and administration and treasurer Matt Orlando, the accelerated increase in the minimum wage reflects changing working conditions in Maine. In 2019, the College announced that it would increase hourly wages at different rates each year, reaching $ 17 an hour in 2022. In the College’s statement, it is mentioned:

“This decision… is the result of excellent and thorough work by Matt Orlando and his team which included a regular review over the past several months of our compensation and benefits and an analysis of changing market conditions. locally and in Maine. “

While there has been work on the administration side to make the salary increase possible, the story told by the College omits important details that must be brought to the attention of the Bowdoin community so that current and future generations of students can know the whole story. . The increase in the minimum wage would not have been possible without the housekeepers courageously speaking out about the problems they were facing, without the surveys carried out by the Orient and without the work of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance and the support of the staff, faculty and students.

To give more context, in May 2018 the Orient published an article about facility workers – gardeners and housekeepers – struggling to make ends meet with the salary they received from Bowdoin. For an institution with an endowment of $ 1.3 billion at the time, this was shocking news to many. Spurred on by the news, a few students came together to create the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA), a coalition of students, staff and faculty formed to raise awareness and mobilize for the college to adopt a living wage, the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs.

The formation of the BLA was just the start of a movement that has seen Bowdoin students, workers and community members come together to shed light on this issue. Since its inception, the group has organized protests that have brought together around 400 students, campaigned at the 2019 graduation ceremony, published several articles from housekeepers and students, and even hosted a discussion among the student body. and the administration of Bowdoin. These actions culminated in the meeting between the board of directors, following which the College announced in October 2019 that Bowdoin planned to increase his minimum wage from $ 12.65 to $ 14 on July 1, 2020, and then to 15 , $ 50 in 2021 and $ 17 by 2022.

Knowing our history is important, but we must not stand idly by as history continues to be written. The increase to $ 17 an hour is considered to be well above the living wage, with the caveat that workers live alone or have some other source of income in the household, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. In analyzing the situation of a worker who lives alone, we must take into account the rent crisis that has taken Maine by storm, causing housing prices to rise. A worker who earns $ 17 an hour earns about $ 2,620 per month and about $ 35,500 per year. According to MaineHousing, the median rental price of a two-bedroom apartment in Cumberland County is $ 1,650, and for a person to lead a decent life, in which housing is affordable (defined as using no more than 30% of gross housing income), they must earn $ 66,000 per year. According to this definition, for a contract worker with starting salary, he must rent a room in a two-bedroom apartment or live with his spouse who must earn at least the same income as the contract worker. The story gets complicated when problems like a car breakdown or an urgent home repair are needed. In this case, you have to find the money quickly, and if the rent covers too much of the monthly income, the contractors are put in a difficult situation.

The problem is not specific to Bowdoin College. It manifests itself at the state level. Since 2017, increases in median renter income have not kept pace with rapidly rising median prices for a two-bedroom apartment. With rent prices rising far faster than the median income, Bowdoin must find a way to ensure that current and future College contract workers can live decently without having to spend most of their income on rent or find a job. housing far away to really be able to afford it.

While wages may have increased, a 4.4% increase in the consumer price index (CPI) (Changes in the measured CPI follow changes in prices over time. A CPI is an estimate statistic constructed from the prices of a sample of representative items whose prices are collected periodically.) can be observed for the Northeast region in 2021, and 4.1% for New England according to the Bureau of United States Labor Statistics. Fuel increased 12% from July 2020, increasing costs for consumers. If we take a look at the aforementioned scenario of a car breakdown, if one of the contract workers goes through this unfortunate event, they might have to pay a price 40% higher than last year to buy another used one.

The increase to $ 17 an hour represents a wage increase of about ten percent, which is at least twice as high as the year-over-year percentage change in the CPI for the Northeast region. East. Workers can now afford more products and services, and the increase does not just cover rising prices.

We, the Bowdoin Labor Alliance, welcome the College’s decision to raise the minimum wage in advance, but we also call for further research and the establishment of a comprehensive formula for calculating the minimum wage. . We ask that this formula be made public and that the campus community understand what contributed to a change in salary. In an email exchange with Matt Orlando, he confirmed that the College takes a number of factors into account when setting salary increases, such as inflation, competitive market analysis by job categories. , labor market conditions and projections, balancing budget / income constraints, squeezing wages, etc. He said that if the College had taken into account only the evolution of consumer prices, the employees would have been much worse off.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), a minimum wage adjusted only for changes in the cost of living would result in a constant minimum wage in real terms, and minimum wage workers would not see their real wages. increase even under circumstances of economic growth. The ILO recommends taking the example of France, which calculates the minimum wage on the basis of changes in the consumer price index, linking it each year to the purchasing power of workers.

We, BLA, advocate for a similar formula to be implemented and made public but to take into account the variation in the prices of rents which are not included in the CPI. The changes in the CPI and the rise in rent prices are alarming, and although Bowdoin made the right decision to increase wages to $ 17 an hour, a suitable formula, accessible to the public, should be put in place. place to accommodate future market changes. and ensure transparency. While the College may benevolently increase wages each year, this process is anxiety-provoking and offers no promise for workers who must consider rapid price increases when calculating their annual budget.

This article represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance.

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