University Makes Sense of Living Wage Figure

Early one morning last week, Ed Childs met his fellow committee members for the first time? hodgepodge of faculty members, blue collar union representatives, two administrators and four democratically selected students, all charged with evaluating Harvard? wage policies.

Wearing a red ?ever Surrender?union t-shirt, the Adams House chef filed into the sumptuous, wood-paneled Faculty Club?ormally the domain of Harvard? most privileged?or the inaugural meeting of a committee born out of the 21-day occupation of Massachusetts Hall by members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM).

University President Neil L. Rudenstine stopped by briefly to see the personalities he had put together, the professionals, laborers and activists who this summer will research issues pertaining to low-wage workers at Harvard?ncluding outsourcing of labor and the possibility of the University implementing a living wage. The group plans to share their findings over e-mail this summer.

Their clothes ranged from pressed suits to bright union t-shirts to a crimson janitor? uniform. For two hours, Rudenstine? charges brainstormed?aking a list of research assignments for the summer.

The seemingly disparate committee members will have to hang together until December 19?hen their report is due to University President-elect Lawrence H. Summers?nd last week? meeting marked the beginning of the group? mission to fuse economic principles with concepts of moral responsibility to form a viable set of recommendations about how Harvard should pay its poorest workers.


More and more economists are starting to research the strengths and weaknesses of the type of wage floor that PSLM advocates. And on the advocacy side, the unions involved in contract negotiations with Harvard and the student activists who occupied Mass. Hall have realized that each of their positions against Harvard is strengthened by the presence of the other.

What Rudenstine? hodgepodge ends up recommending in December will be a compromise between the academics, the laborers and the activists?inking the economics, morality and activism behind Harvard? wage policies.

The idea of a living wage is convoluted in itself, calculated on loose, not standardized estimates of how much a family needs to earn to live?ith variables like family size, hometown, and the number of wage earners dramatically altering the wage between towns located just next to each other.

While cities like Cambridge have adopted policies that impose a mandatory wage floor for some of its workers, even economic experts say that the implications of Harvard adopting a living wage are unpredictable. Some employees might be laid off because of the wage increase. Others might enjoy a higher standard of living.

Though the living wage figure itself is subjectively, and somewhat arbitrarily, calculated, PSLM? dogged push this spring for a Harvard wage floor of $10.25 an hour forces the suits, the union t-shirts and the khaki-clad undergraduates to hammer out a compromise from the economic implications of a wage floor and the ideological arguments surrounding the concept of a living wage.

The Birth Of A Living Wage

The chants for a living wage that echoed on campus this spring are part of a growing national movement that has attracted attention from students, unions and labor economists alike.

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