The living wage campaign

May 9th statement by the rochester campus action network in solidarity with students' civil disobedience actions at harvard university and the university of connecticut for a living wage.

The Rochester Campus Action Network (RCAN), including students from the University of Rochester, RIT, SUNY Brockport, SUNY Geneseo, MCC, St. John Fisher, Nazareth, and Roberts Wesleyan Colleges, would like to express solidarity with concerned students at Harvard and the University of Connecticut. Students, faculty, alumni, clergy, area citizens, and workers of all backgrounds have united in overwhelming support of a living wage for all workers at Harvard. They recently ended a 21-day sit-in and will soon begin a committee process to resolve their on-campus wage problems. UConn began a similar sit-in this Tuesday, May 8th, advocating better conditions for the university's janitors.

Due to the prevalence of non-subsistence wage levels, scores of workers in the U.S. and abroad have been unable to afford adequate food, housing, and medical care for themselves and their families. Gross poverty and malnutrition—sometimes even starvation and death—have resulted from the inability of some wage levels to provide for basic human needs. In Rochester, this January, the City Council approved legislation requiring a living wage be paid to employees of companies providing services to the city. Service contractors doing business with the city must pay employees at least $8.52 per hour with health benefits, or $9.52 without company-provided medical coverage under this law. Many more workers in the Rochester area are not covered by this legislation and their needs must be addressed.

The living wage campaign is a powerful component of the larger United Students Against Sweatshops movement, reputed to be the largest American social movement since the Anti-Vietnam protests. Students, human rights groups, and workers abroad and in the U.S. have been organizing to promote living wages and other improvements in the conditions at factories producing collegiate apparel. Most publicized locally, has been the UR administration's resistance to requests for action addressing fair treatment of garment workers. The UR No-Sweat Coalition has held candlelight vigils, awareness concerts, fashion shows, teach-ins, rallies, campouts, and in September members marched in the Labor Day parade alongside the city workers.

Syracuse University has signed onto the Workers Rights Consortium, a nonprofit organization that monitors the conditions of apparel manufacturing for SU and its 80 other affiliated colleges. Students, professors, and alumni have requested WRC membership at UR, and its committee-set up by President Jackson-recently disbanded following a two-year policy of inaction. St. John Fisher, Nazareth, and Roberts Wesleyan Colleges have formed academic committees to look into the issue of sweatshop labor and its collegiate connection. Brockport, Geneseo, MCC, and RIT have been discussing and raising awareness around the issue.

Locally, students have been working with labor groups like the Rochester Labor Council, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Civil Service Employees of Association (CSEA), and the Rochester Labor-Religion Coalition on issues regarding labor conditions, fair wages, and the existence of sweatshops. Our efforts have been focused on speaking out in solidarity with workers, as a call for action and as a reminder that dignity and sustainable wages are human rights.

There is reason to be optimistic about the college movement's involvement with labor issues following the recent progress at Harvard. But, it is time to recognize that not all employers are willing to pay decent wages or to provide good working conditions. We must each consider our role in the living wage campaign, and fight for the health and high quality of life that each and every member of our community deserves. We are connected, now we must rally behind the workers and work toward the improvement of their conditions on local, national, and international levels.

This article was co-authored by: Sarah Clock and Kirk Scirto of the University of Rochester ( Steve Schaffer of Nazareth College ,Tim Edin of Roberts Wesleyan College , and Khury Peterson-Smith of RIT