from The Badger Herald OPINION & EDITORIAL - Monday, October 17, 2005

Referendum aids LTE employees

by Mark Thomas

Working people on campus would like to thank students for passing the Living Wage Referendum during the ASM elections held Oct. 11-13. Those who worked on and voted for the referendum have struck a blow for human dignity.

I work in the kitchen at the Memorial Union. I make a decent wage - $13.78 per hour, after 25 years on the job - with health insurance, paid vacation, a pension, and a union to protect me. I work side by side with Limited Term Employees - people who make $7.25 an hour, receive no benefits, and whose rights are left to my bosses' tender mercies. The union-represented people in the kitchen are mostly white, and the LTEs are mostly people of color. I've learned a lot about poverty from my sisters and brothers who struggle to survive on the wages they're paid at the university.

The referendum adopted last week would require campus workplaces funded by segregated fees to pay $10.23 an hour to LTEs. While this is "110 percent of the federal poverty wage for a family of four," in truth it is hardly enough to support one person with no dependents. Any LTE trying to raise a child on this income has to have more than one job, and they are one paycheck away from being homeless. For people working as LTEs, the university IS a sweatshop.

It is disingenuous for Memorial Union administrators to say that they are concerned with holding down students' segregated fees. Last April, students rejected a referendum put forth by the Memorial Union administration to pay for the "Wisconsin Union Master plan" through segregated fees. The referendum - which the administration tried to sneak through with no publicity - would have raised fees $132 per year over 15 years. By then, it would have cost students over $44 million. Progressive students blocked the referendum, thereby saving future students millions of dollars.

If you need more proof, be aware that the Memorial Union administration is cranking up a campaign to pass a similar referendum in the spring. They recently signed a contract with a public relations firm for $198,000 to shepherd a referendum to fund the Master Plan through the spring ASM elections. Stealth didn't work last April, so they will be trying spin next spring.

I'd like to thank SLAC for putting this referendum and the ballot, the Teaching Assistants Association, the College Democrats, and the International Socialist Organization for their backing, and the students who voted for the referendum for their support.

We will soon know if the administration will accept these results, or if they will try to obstruct our efforts with legal challenges. This may be the beginning of a campaign to force administrators to do the right thing by the LTEs and to respect students' rights to shared governance.

Mark Thomas is a member of the AFSCME local 171 Steward.

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