Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Miami march supports workers

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - A controversial author followed her campus speech to freshmen Monday by taking part in a hundreds-strong march on Miami University's administration building, part of a drive to increase pay for support staff.

Barbara Ehrenreich - whose books include Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America,which is about life on minimum wage - was the keynote speaker at this year's convocation ceremony, kicking off the university's academic year. Ehrenreich caused a stir in Cincinnati last March when - at the urging of organizers of a boycott on downtown - she reneged on speaking at a fund-raiser for the Woman's City Club of Greater Cincinnati.

Talking Monday before Miami University's Class of 2007, community members and staff, Ehrenreich discussed the privilege of being able to attend college and prodded students to become socially active.

She then cited Miami University's Local 209, which represents some 860 custodial and food service employees on the main campus. The union is demanding higher pay for service employees.

Concluding her speech, she invited all students to join in the march.

"The real experts of being nickled and dimed are the ones leading this march," the author said.

She then marched with several hundred students, workers and others to Roudebush Hall, the administrative headquarters on campus. Some marchers waved banners reading "Living Wage Makes Cents" and "Dignity."

Miami University's College Republicans handed out "Capitalism works" fliers to protest both Ehrenreich's speech and the perceived liberal stance of the university.

Last month, university officials rejected a state fact-finder's report, which called for a pay raise of about 25 percent over three years.

Miami spokeswoman Holly Wissing said the administration is optimistic that a middle ground can be found. Union representatives and university officials will meet Friday.

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