Isn’t it too expensive for the university to pay these wages?
Salaries and wages for all university employees (including administrators, coaches, professors, etc.) totaled about $600,000,000 in 2019, and then decreased for the following two years. This was at the same time as Notre Dame's endowment grew by $7 billion, the largest one-year increase in the university’s 180 year history. The decrease in salaries and wages combined with the increase in endowment funds indicates that the university has had the capacity in its budget to spend more on employee wages. Plus, investing in the local community by increasing wages is in the university’s best interest long-term as it improves local infrastructure, decreases poverty, fights the financial stressors leading to crime, and increases quality of life. All of these factors could draw more students, workers, tourists, and guests to the area.
Besides, providing workers with fair compensation is a priority that should come first in the budget-making process. When Fr. Jenkins assumed his role as President of the University of Notre Dame, he said in his inaugural address that, “we will strive to build a community generous to those in need and responsive to the demands of justice – strengthened by grace and guided by the command to love God and neighbor. This is no easy mission. But its difficulty is not our concern; we did not create the mission, and we cannot change it.” So too, the difficulty of this endeavor is not our concern, but rather the merits of justice and what it demands from us.
Why are you advocating for a COLA for non-students instead of raising wages to a specific number?
The RSC is unequivocally advocating for the wage floor to be raised to match the living wage for the area as determined by the Notre Dame Just Wages and Fair Employment Board. However, without being shared employee demographics from H.R. such as family size, we are unable to accurately say what a living wage would be for the average Notre Dame non-student worker. There are variations between living wage calculators, which is why it is necessary for the Notre Dame Just Wages and Fair Employment Board to be established in order to work with HR based on actual employee information to determine a living wage for Notre Dame workers in the St. Joseph Community.
In addition, for progress in the future, requesting a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is a much more sustainable solution to unfair wages. It equips wages to be continually increased to match local trends in the cost of living. Asking for one particular number without a COLA runs the risk of being a short-term fix. If our community lets the university only increase the current minimum wage with no other structural changes, then employees are likely to face lower real values of their wages for each following year they go after the initial minimum wage increase without an update. The Notre Dame Just Wages and Fair Employment Board will first recommend a living wage for the area. Once this wage is instituted, a COLA then allows us to continually reflect on it and renew our wages in order to treat workers fairly, no matter the changing economic landscape.
But doesn’t the university already cover 100% of demonstrated financial need?
Notre Dame is one of 60 schools that promise to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need for tuition and fees. However, loans often constitute large portions of student aid packages and fail to consider the various other costs associated with campus life. For those who do not receive parental support for these additional costs throughout the school year, they must rely on campus wages. Also, arguments of this kind ignore the value of labor and a person’s right to be fairly compensated for their work, regardless of financial need.
Doesn’t Notre Dame already pay competitive wages for the local market?
As mentioned earlier, multiple employers within a mile of campus offer higher comparable starting wages than the university ($17 per hour at Notre Dame Federal Credit Union, $17 per hour at Culver’s, and $16 per hour at Aldi). However, due to the majority of students living on campus, Notre Dame does not have to compete with these local employers.
Also, Notre Dame is by far the dominating employer in the South Bend region, which significantly decreases the competitiveness of the market. With that market power comes great responsibility; we share responsibility for setting what the competitive wage is in the South Bend market. Raising the standard of Notre Dame wages could raise the standard for surrounding employers as well.
Why can’t changes to minimum wage laws just be handled by the City of South Bend?
Indiana state laws prohibit localities from setting their own minimum wage rates which means South Bend cannot increase its minimum wage. Notre Dame on the other hand, as a private employer, has a unique ability to impact wage standards. We can act on this issue in a way that South Bend and St. Joseph County’s governments cannot.
What if this causes the university to lay off workers / decrease financial aid?
By making this a priority at the beginning of the budget-making process, the university can afford these policy changes. The universities mentioned earlier in our proposal were able to enact similar policies with even smaller endowment funds at their disposal and without the negative side effects of laying off workers or decreasing financial aid. Especially with the use of Notre Dame’s larger endowment funds, the university has the current budgetary capacity to make these improvements without impacting current employment levels. The Raising the Standard Campaign is arguing for the university to adopt these new policies without laying off any current workers or decreasing financial aid coverage. It is up to the university to make this a priority, and we petition the administration to promise not to permit these adverse effects as they decide how best to implement these policy changes.