Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Labor activists target Miami

Claim wages too low for some campus staff

By Jon Gambrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - A labor group is trying to rally campus support for better pay for Miami University workers.

"Concerned about working conditions for M.U. employees?" ask fliers distributed around campus, encouraging involvement with Miami University's Fair Labor Coalition.

The coalition, formed several months ago, says the $8.14 per hour paid to starting building and food service personnel isn't on par with what workers need.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 209 represents 850 workers at the university. Their contracts run out on June 30.

Miami University is the largest employer in Butler County, with more than 4,200 employees at the main campus in Oxford and the two branches in Middletown and Hamilton.

Of these, there are 331 building and grounds workers and 189 food service assistants.

Miami gives employees a cost of living increase of 3 percent each year. Randy Marcum, president of the AFSCME Local 209, said that's not enough.

"The problem we have isn't with the current administration. We are just trying to right the wrongs of the past," he said.

Nick Robinson, a senior journalism major at Miami who is active with the coalition, cited a 2000 study conducted by the university's Motivation and Morale subcommittee that said workers were "strongly frustrated and resentful." The Miami employees involved in the study said that they "felt betrayed by inequities" in pay.

According to fliers advertising the Fair Labor Coalition, the living wage for Butler County is $16 per hour. However, according to data released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in September, the housing wage in Butler County is $12.27 per hour, considering that housing would account for 30 percent of a person's income.

Miami spokeswoman Holly Wissing said that with benefits included, the university pays $10.99 per hour.

"If Miami were to start paying $16 per hour, we'd end up paying an extra $18 million," she said. "With such an increase, the money could come from state subsidy or tuition."

Marcum said that money could be made back through tuition.

"But the situation isn't as easy as he (Marcum) says," Wissing said.

"Everyone is struggling with (the state budget cuts) right now and people are belt-tightening. Students are our business."

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