The United Campus Workers (UCW) union continues to push for an increase in the minimum wage on campus as University of Memphis President M. David Rudd considers a proposal to increase staff pay to $15 per hour by 2020.
The call for an increased minimum wage comes after Shelby County mayor Lee Harris vetoed a $1 million grant to the UofM. His veto was overturned by the Shelby County Commission, and the grant was restored.
Jayanni Webster, a UCW organizer for West Tennessee, and is involved in petitioning state and local government for better workplaces for campus employees. She said the wage increase had been a part of their ambitions for several years.
“A living wage has been a goal from the beginning, back in December 2013,” Webster said. “Our living wage campaign won a pay raise to $10.10, and since we revived the campaign, we think that we can achieve this raise also.”
A UofM faculty and staff joint resolution requested the raise in the 2018-2019 school year.
Efforts made by the UCW included lobbying toward figures such as County Mayor Lee Harris and former governor Bill Haslam.
Despite the joint resolution, UCW has not seen progress in increasing wages to $15 per hour, and Harris intervened this summer on behalf of UofM employees.
Harris vetoed a request for $1 million for renovation for the campuses swimming facility until the UofM provided a written plan for getting employees $15 per hour.
After the veto, Rudd sent a tweet saying that the UofM had a plan to reach $15 hour wages in two years.
Webster said she felt aggravated by the university’s lack of acknowledgment in addressing of the issue.
“It is frustrating to see that the veto by Mayor Harris was the one thing the UofM responded to after seven and a half years of asking for living wages,” Webster said.
The Commercial Appeal submitted a Freedom of Information request to the city after Rudd’s tweet.
The Commercial Appeal published an article Aug. 20 with their findings: the emails they requested contained no plan for increasing the minimum wage on campus.
Despite the misleading tweet, Webster said there was some hope for the future.
“We firmly believe that the UofM has funding to increase wages to $15 hour that faculty don’t have to make poverty wages,” Webster said. “We advocate for fair raises statewide, and to make sure people don’t have to struggle to take care of their families.”
The UCW is organized primarily for staff on campus, and particularly custodial staff.
Webster said that they would be interested in advocating for student employees, but that those employees would need to “get active in the campaign,” Webster said.
Furthermore, Webster said the UCW has ambitions of advocating for pay equality in the next academic cycle.
Webster said that dedication from the administration could still make $15 per hour by 2020 a reality and the UCW intends to keep advocating for a living wage at the UofM.