Can the University of Memphis afford to pay its workers a living wage? With state budget cuts, it's certainly a legitimate question. It's interesting how when low-wage workers, who need a raise the most, call for a living wage, people ask about the cost. But can the University really afford to pay Athletic Director R.C. Johnson $307,500 (which is even more than President Raines earns)? His pay is 21 times higher than what some janitorial workers at the University make, and I don't hear a lot of questions about his pay.
I'm not saying that janitorial workers at the University and Director Johnson or President Raines should all be paid the same salary. But I do believe that the University has a moral obligation to make sure all its workers earn at least enough that they aren't forced to live in poverty. Or work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and therefore can rarely spend time with their children. Or have to apply for Food Stamps just to put groceries on the table. Until all workers at the University are paid a living wage, perks like company cars and entertainment budgets - only available to a handful of top-paid people - should be put on hold.
Unlike some town-gown relationships, the University of Memphis shows real concern for the problems like poverty and crime that so many people in our city struggle with. One example of that concern is two living wage studies that the University of Memphis' Center for Research on Women produced in 1999 and in 2002. These studies helped WIN determine the living wage rate for the City of Memphis and Shelby County living wage ordinances. Now the University has the opportunity to set an example for all employers in our community by paying a living wage to its own employees. You can help press the University to do this by signing WIN's petition to President Raines.
The benefits of a living wage to workers are pretty obvious. Not having to worry about whether you can pay the rent, buy enough groceries, and get the school clothes your child needs is just one benefit. If you've had to work a second job to pay the bills, quitting it gives you time to spend with your children, become more involved in their education, or be active in the community.
But there are significant benefits to paying a living wage for employers too. For example, when the San Francisco Airport began paying a living wage, turnover among security screeners dropped from 95 percent to just 19 percent. Less turnover means more experienced workers, and less time spent on recruitment and training. A study of the Los Angeles living wage ordinance found that absenteeism among workers went down after the living wage was implemented, boosting productivity.
I'm glad that so much research demonstrates that living wage is good for both employers and employees. What's most important, is that businesses, including the University, recognize their moral obligation to their workers. The workers who make the University's success possible should be rewarded with wages that are at least enough to keep them out of poverty. If you agree that a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay, please sign the petition to President Raines today.