On Sept. 30, students and staff workers at UMCP marched down Route 1 chanting “Who’s Campus? Our Campus!” and “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Low wages have got to go!” Cars honked and passerby’s gave the protestors high fives in support. What were they protesting? The current minimum wage for student workers on campus.
The protest was organized by the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), a student group on campus. According to their Twitter page, the organization is dedicated to “fighting for economic and racial justice in [UMD’s] campus and surrounding communities.”
Student workers at the University of Maryland, College Park, are paid $8.75/hr. Viraja Patel, a third year history major and a member of SLAP, says the minimum wage for Prince George’s County was raised to $10.75 as of Oct. 1. But yet, “the campus minimum wage will remain $2.00 less.”
“We’ve met with President Loh and there are funds that they can find to be able to accommodate this,” Patel said, “We pay our former basketball coach [Gary Williams] over $100,000 a year still, while he did do good things for our university, he doesn’t really work here right now anymore and there are students who face a lot of problems when it comes to being able to afford to come to school here, being able to pay rent, buy books, food…”
Chris Bangert-Downs, a senior economics major, says President Loh has the resources to fix this as he runs an annual budget of $1.8 billion and that it is disrespectful to students that he wont. “He just needs to understand that it’s in his interest now because we are fighting him to do that. ”
Student workers were not the only ones present at this rally. The local staff union chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) showed their support by coming out as well. Gregory Johnson is the President of the Local 1072 chapter of AFSCME and he believes President Loh has lost touch with what it means to live at their level.
Johnson says the Union has more legal power when it comes to negotiating with the President’s office so they are piggy backing on SLAP’s enthusiasm and in return SLAP benefits from the Union’s legal standing.
When asked for comment, university spokesperson Crystal Brown released the following statement:
“As the flagship public institution for the state of Maryland, we follow minimum wage requirements that have been established for the state by the legislature. They determine the state minimum wage, increases to it, etc. The university does not. However, we do adhere to the guidelines that have been set.
There are departments on campus that choose to pay more than the minimum wage. Different units on campus can pay different wages as they deem appropriate.”
Patel hopes that the rally showed that this is “an issue that matters to people on campus” and that “the university understand[s] that we as a community have power in this situation and that we can have a say and dictate the conditions of our employment, the conditions of …our lives here as students and workers.”