from The Badger Herald Thursday, February 23, 2006

Group argues for better pay

by Ann Babe

As part of its efforts to raise salaries for University of Wisconsin limited-term employees, the Student Labor Action Coalition held a press conference Tuesday to publicize its Living Wage initiative.

Representatives hope to garner enough student support for a referendum to increase salaries to a living wage; an issue university officials contend the administration has no power to control.

SLAC representative Hannah Longrie said the organization is focusing its efforts on LTEs employed at Wisconsin Union, Recreation Sports and University Health Services.

Although there is no specific strategy for where funds for a salary increase would come from, the current LTE wages — which SLAC representatives believe are too low — are funded by student-segregated fees.

“Students have the right and the responsibility to make sure that the people working at facilities paid for by student fees are treated fairly,” Longrie, the ASM shared governance chair, said.

The coalition’s plan calls for LTE salaries to be equal to or greater than 110 percent of the federal poverty line for a family of four. Such an increase would raise the current salary from approximately $7.25 an hour to at least $10.23 an hour.

However, Vice Chancellor of Academic Staff Darrell Bazzell said the wage scale is established by the state, not the university.

Responding to SLAC’s Living Wage proposal, Bazzell added the university tries to make sure that all of its workers receive a reasonable wage, but said,”[It is] an issue we can’t fix as a campus.”

Although the Wisconsin Union released a statement saying they were taking the wage issue for LTEs seriously, they decided not to vote on a specific policy yet. However, LTE Mike Imbrogno, remains unimpressed.

“We’ve heard this song and dance before,” he remarked.

In order for the referendum to be placed on an ASM ballot and voted on, five percent of the student body — approximately 2,000 signatures — must sign in accordance with the initiative by March 6.

As of now, SLAC has 1,000 student signatures, and representatives are confident that they will be able to attain the additional 1,000 necessary within the remaining two weeks.

According to SLAC representative Johnathon Godlewski, the movement for a living wage would not cause any direct increase to student segregated fees and should be supported by students.

“So let’s get it done,” he said.

Additionally, Longrie said that by passing the Living Wage initiative, students would be conveying a point that they do not want to contribute their money to a facility that does not treat its workers justly.

“I have complete faith that the university administration will honor the students’ decision to not allocate student fees to such facilities,” she said.

Furthermore, SLAC representatives believe the low wages are a sign of disrespect to LTEs.

Imbrogno, who works in food services at Memorial Union and is part of Local 171 — a union for blue collar workers — argued LTE workers are mistreated by comparing the current salary of approximately $7.25 an hour to the $8.53 an hour Wal-Mart sales associates make.

He supported his claim by drawing attention to the fact that Dane County is the second most expensive place to live in Wisconsin.

Imbrogno added the university has an obligation to pay their employees a wage they can live on.

“We should see some justice here in the workplace,” he said.

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