Opinion

18-to-1 and a living wage: the Student Assembly and looking forward

The student assembly on income inequality held last Tuesday was a milestone for the power of concerted student action as well as a success for progressive ideas in general. With 80 votes yes, only 11 votes no and 2 abstentions, our resolution passed by a landslide. The resolution included proposals for a maximum pay-ratio of 18:1 between the highest and lowest paid workers at Macalester, an increase in pay for subcontracted employees to Macalester’s supposed minimum wage of $14.17/hour (indexed to inflation) and the establishment of a standing committee in MCSG to address income inequality moving forward.

I am writing this article in part to give a more clear report of the assembly than the one offered in The Mac Weekly last Friday, which left out portions of the dialogue and how direct responses to questions and concerns were addressed. Of course, including dissenting and minority opinions is fair and common-sense journalism, but The Mac Weekly gave the false impression to many readers that we did not have responses to these comments. I do not assume that the writer of the article held a deliberate bias, but I do feel the need to clear the air and give a fuller picture of the proceedings as well as continue the discourse of the assembly.

The first dissenting quote came from Hannah Mira Friedland ’17. She said, “I don’t understand why [the resolution is] specifically targeting Brian Rosenberg.” Friedland’s concern is certainly shared by us and I am glad she spoke up and critically analyzed our approach. Since this campaign is about making sure all on-campus employees make a wage they can live on, and not demonizing President Rosenberg, we were careful in how we approached our solution. This is why the 18:1 pay-ratio provision was chosen to begin in the year 2020, which lands after President Rosenberg will have most likely already retired. This allows the next president, who conceivably will start with a lower level of compensation, to not begin by maxing out this ratio, and also means that the provision should not result in any pay cuts. Instead, the ratio would provide a long-term accountability measure that allows the lowest paid workers to receive pay raises along with the new president. Having such a ratio also disincentivizes the kind of “race to the bottom” of cutting wages for the lowest paid workers we’ve seen many corporations and colleges adopt.

Our response to Jose Caballero Ciciolli ’15 was also omitted. Jose claimed that “it’s not like [Brian Rosenberg] shows up 40 hours a week and gets paid.” I thank Jose for this well-founded point. While it is certainly true that the president is a salaried employee and therefore not paid by the hour — meaning we do not have a certain estimate of hours worked — what Jose might not have known about is information Macalester provides to the IRS on the form 990. In Part VII under column B that says “average hours per week,” the president’s box reads “40.0.” The IRS form 990, that all tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations are legally obligated to file with the IRS and publicly release, is also the source from which we get our compensation numbers. We thought it prudent to use the same source for all aspects of our calculation, and contrary to Jose’s assertion that this number is “biased,” the IRS form 990s are the only credible sources of this information that exist.

In addition, I was incorrectly paraphrased in the second to last paragraph with the words, “Going forward, Michalesko said that they will take their resolution to the Board of Trustees but they don’t expect a great response.” When I was interviewed, I did not say we weren’t expecting a great response, rather I said that we did not know what to expect. We have not discussed any of our ideas with the Board of Trustees yet. However, we are confident that the trustees will recognize students as their primary constituents and see our wide support, which includes 439 signatures to call the assembly and the 86 percent votes yes at the assembly itself, as a compelling reason to adopt the 18:1 pay-ratio. We look forward to gaining an audience with the Board of Trustees soon and keeping you, the student body, updated on our progress.

Besides the pay-ratio, we also hope to continue to work on the other part of our resolution that would move subcontractor pay up to Macalester’s self-imposed minimum wage of $14.17/hour. Macalester’s contract with Bon Appetit ends in 2020, so we will be making sure the administration includes a provision to pay these on-campus employees a living wage. Other schools have already worked with their administrations to follow through on similar proposals.

Finally, I personally want to thank everybody who supported us during this ambitious process. Although the resolution is only a suggestion to the administration and trustees, the amazing turnout should indicate the issue’s gravity as well as students’ commitment to ethical remuneration practices. Echoing the words of professor and Mac Alum Erik Davis ’96 at the assembly, I really hope there isn’t another decade before the next student assembly. In spite of all of the barriers to change, the success of this first step shows that it is possible for students to work together to make progress.

We believe that it’s important to continue this joint effort from the student body moving forward. The success of the student assembly wouldn’t be possible without you, and we can’t keep up the progress without you either. If you’re passionate about income inequality issues at Macalester, we invite you to join the MSAII (Macalester Students Against Income Inequality) coalition in order to make the 18:1 pay-ratio and living wage a reality. Please email me or any of the people listed below to get involved.

Nick Michalesko • [email protected]
Patrick Blomgren • [email protected]
Ilana Budenosky • [email protected]
Sam Doten • [email protected]
Haleigh Duncan • [email protected]
Russell Fillmore-Brady • [email protected]
Noah Stiglitz • [email protected]

April 24, 2015

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