The members of a Center for Ethics-sponsored “Living Wage”
panel—an Agnes Scott professor, a Los Angeles entrepreneur
and an Atlanta-based activist—didn’t really debate the
idea or the necessity of a living wage. That was a given.
Instead the panelists, who met in Woodruff Library’s Jones
Room on Tuesday, April 1, discussed the definition of a living wage,
told stories of the often difficult effort to make it a reality,
and gave hints to more than 100 attendees about what they can do
to help. The ethics center and the Emory Coalition for a Living
Wage cosponsored the event.
Cindia Cameron, national organizing director of 9to5: National Association
of Working Women and co-founder of the Atlanta Living Wage Coalition,
began the program by defining “living wage.” She said
it is calculation of the money necessary to a person’s minimum
needs for food, transportation, housing, child care, health care
and miscellaneous bills.
Calculations are done locally, and they take into account a variety
of factors, such as whether a person has dependents and whether
their job offers health benefits. Generally a living wage, Cameron
said, is about 130 percent of the poverty level for a family of
“People who work full time should be able to support a family
above poverty level,” Cameron said. “And that work should
Tina Pippin, associate professor of religious studies at Agnes Scott
College, spoke of the effort to raise wages for employees at her
institution. “It’s important to engage people who are
anti-living wage,” she said. “When we tell them that
we, as a college, pay people a poverty wage, that stops them in
The importance of gathering information was a point hammered home
by the third panelist, Pierre Ferrari, founder of the SweatX Apparel
company, a member of the Ben and Jerry’s board of directors
and holder of an MBA from Harvard Business School.
“If you don’t have a handle of the news, you will get
smoked,” he said. Ferrari explained that his company pays
its lowest-wage workers $12 an hour ($5 an hour above the average)
at a cost of $500,000 a year. He added, though, that the extra expense
was worth it. In his comments he gave strategic hints to activists
fighting for a living wage.
“You have to turn to a revenue paradigm,” he said. “Satisfied
employees will do more for a business than any entrepreneur. Dignified
payment ensures loyalty and success.” Poor production, high
training costs and high turnover are the results of low wages, Ferrari
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, a supporter of the effort to provide
a living wage to workers employed by the city as well as those who
are employed by companies providing contract and subcontract work
for the city, had been scheduled to sit on the panel but was unable
On March 3, members of the Atlanta city council introduced a living
wage ordinance, backed by Franklin, that would require the city
and every firm that does business with the city to pay employees
at least $10.50 an hour with benefits or $12 without. Those were
the numbers calculated to be a living wage in Atlanta, Cameron said.
The ordinance is being debated.
On campus, the Faculty Council and University Senate have discussed
the idea of a living wage at Emory, but as yet no action has been
taken. Accord-ing to statistics, Emory has about 200 employees who
are paid at the University’s lowest wage rate: $8.50 an hour.