March 29, 2004

Employee Council hears living wage presentation

By Eric Rangus

The Employee Council rarely hears from students, but the council's March 17 meeting in Woodruff Library's Jones Room featured a student guest discussing his organization--the Student Coalition for a Living Wage.

Luke Bassett, a junior English major from Milton, W.Va., and member of the six-student coalition, spoke and answered questions for 30 minutes concerning the volunteer group's work, its advocacy for Emory and subcontract employees, and an exploration of possible partnerships with the council.

The coalition came together formally fall 2002 and the next spring co-sponsored with the Center for Ethics a living-wage panel discussion on campus. A "living wage" is defined as the income necessary to meet a person's minimum needs for food, transportation, housing, child care, health care and miscellaneous bills, and, according to Bassett, studies have placed the living wage in Atlanta at $10.50 an hour. He said Emory's lowest current hourly wage is $8.75, and that rate soon would go up to $9 an hour.

Bassett said members of the coalition have met with senior administrators such as Mike Mandl and Alice Miller and gave a positive account of those meetings. "We found that Emory was an amazing employer and it is getting even better," he said.

Bassett added that the coalition's current efforts are not aimed directly at Emory employees but rather at subcontract employees, many of whom are paid less on average than University staff. He said another of the coalition's goals is to improve worker outreach, and a partnership with the council would help. "Our goal really isn't to raise the minimum wage at Emory to $10.50 an hour, but to change the culture of Emory so that all workers are valued," he said.

Bassett added that students could serve as advocates for staff. "As students we have some flexibility," he said. "We have the ability to speak out and can raise questions that can be difficult to voice."

He asked that council members have conversations with workers--both Emory staff and subcontract employees--to learn what their concerns are. Then the coalition would see what it could do to help.

The council also heard from John Snarey, professor of human development and ethics in the Candler School of Theology and president of University Senate, who discussed the importance of shared governance.

Membership chair Cheryl Sroka distributed biographical sketches of officer candidates. The council will vote for a 2004-05 president-elect, secretary-elect, treasurer and historian at its April meeting.

Chris Gabriel announced that six council members had formed a team for the Emory/Intown Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, April 16-17. The team's goal is not only to recruit more volunteers for the overnight event but also to raise $1,000 in donations. Gabriel passed a basket around, and when she got it back it contained $115.

The next Employee Council meeting will be held at noon, Wednesday, April 21, in the Woodruff Library's Jones Room.

If you have a question or comment for Employee Council, send e-mail to President Don Newsome at