A protest over paychecks

Author: Jim Ryan ’06

A group of Notre Dame students held a sit-in outside the office of University President Father John I. Jenkins, CSC, in May 2006 as it continued its call for the University to increase significantly the wages of its lowest-paid workers. The Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP), founded in September 2005, seeks to “build an authentic Notre Dame family that treats students, workers, faculty, and alumni as equal members,” according to the CLAP website. CLAP’s primary goal to that end is to ensure that a “living wage"—the wage a worker must make in a 40-hour work week to support a family of four—is paid to all University employees, particularly service and maintenance staff.

Kamaria Porter ’06, CLAP’s co-founder, says she began talking to workers in the dining halls, classroom buildings and residence halls about their wages in autumn 2004. “I saw there was a very clear problem,” she says. “People with families were working multiple jobs and hadn’t seen any significant advancements after a number of years of service. They liked working here, they liked interacting with students, but everyone sighs about their wages, and they didn’t think they could do anything about it.”

CLAP says its call for a living wage for all employees is rooted in Catholic social teaching. Pope Leo XIII called for a living wage in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, and he has been affirmed by several succeeding popes.

John Affleck-Graves, the University’s executive vice president, issued a response to CLAP’s report in April. “We applaud the concern of our students for this issue,” the statement says. But it adds that the base wages paid to University employees and the benefits they receive make Notre Dame “the employer of choice for workers in this region.” The statement says the University will bargain in good faith with the workers should they choose to organize, and it calls on workers to not be afraid to air their grievances. It concludes, “Our system of compensation is neither fundamentally unjust, as the CLAP document implies, or incapable of fairly addressing those needs and inequities that do exist.”