Agnes Scott's Living Wage Campaign Makes a Resurgence

Even at a university as progressive as Agnes Scott, it can be incredibly difficult for hourly workers to get paid the wage they need and deserve. The living wage campaign at Agnes Scott has existed discontinuously since 1995, a testament to how complex this struggle can be and how much work it requires. This is currently the longest-running living wage campaign in Georgia.

On January 28th, social media posts about the living wage campaign for hourly employees at Agnes Scott quietly appeared on Twitter and on the Facebook group “Simply at Agnes.”

The bio of the Agnes Scott Living Wage Campaign's Twitter account unsubtly states that the organization is “[f]ighting hypocrisy on the quest to live honorably.” The hypocrisy they’re fighting is that our college’s own motto encourages students to “engage in the social challenges of our times,” and yet our college does not pay its staff members who are on an hourly wage -- custodians, landscapers, food service workers, and others -- an amount that equates to a livable wage in Georgia.

Soon, flyers went up around campus. This flyer, spotted in Presser Hall, provocatively declares that poverty wages are “[o]ne more monument to white supremacy,” and “[a] crucial part of the New Jim Crow”.

Photo credit: Alex Brown

Because of the vulnerability of the topic, some organizers and supporters of the campaign had originally intended to be anonymous, but one of the student leaders involved in the campaign, Emma Fischer, agreed to speak with me.

“Tina Pippin is really the galvanizing force behind this,” Fischer said. Dr. Tina Pippin is a religion professor who has been working with this campaign since its inception and has dedicated more than thirty years to other union work. “Basically we’ve been working for a living wage longer than I’ve been alive,” Emma Fischer says of the campaign’s length. “The fact that we haven’t gotten there is infuriating and disheartening, but this is one of those things where you just can’t give up.”

“Because Agnes is so justice-minded, the fact that people are not engaging [with] this as an issue, I think is really due to… ignorance, I think people just do not know, and if they did know, we would be talking about it much more as an institution.”

Emma Fischer compared the campaign’s goals to the Fight for 15 movement, a movement that began in 2012 when fast food workers in New York City walked off the job to demand higher wages. However, Fischer noted that $15 is not a living wage in Dekalb County. One recent tweet alleges that Agnes Scott’s starting hourly wages “only go up to” $12, despite a living wage for one child and one adult in Dekalb county being $23.18. “We do, as an institution, have a living wage policy. It’s not a living wage. It would be a living wage if it was just you, your expenses only, but if you’re married or have children it’s not a living wage.”

Fischer hinted at the living wage campaign’s plans for the college's Founder’s Day. “What we really want to do is raise awareness. We are having an economic justice teach-in in the Hub. We’re going to have lots of information, questions, dialogue, et cetera.”

That event will be from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm on Friday. The event description reads:

“All students, staff, faculty, alumnae, retirees, and campus guests are invited to learn from each other about efforts to achieve economic justice on our campus and beyond.  This event will feature brief videos, live music, and an open mic.  We expect participants from across the metro area, including representatives from women’s groups, the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, labor unions and religious organizations. Our discussion will include connections among sexism, racism and economic injustice.”

“I love Agnes Scott,” Fischer clarified, “and when I see that our mission statement is to educate young people to engage with the social challenges of our times, but we pay poverty wages, is that not a social challenge?” Especially because Agnes Scott is so focused on social justice in its curriculum, Fischer points out that “it’s baffling that we can send students across the globe and talk about, you know, travelling responsibly and engaging with the world in a responsible fashion, and then when we get back home, we’re paying poverty wages. It’s antithetical to everything we stand for.”

Fischer proposed that it’s on the administration to make a change: “President Kiss has not engaged with us in the way that we would hope her to… College presidents have a really hard job, and [Kiss] is stuck in the position of keeping the students happy and keeping the [alumnae] happy.” It is unclear how this campaign will move forward with the upcoming exchange of power as Kiss steps down and president-elect Lee Zak is inaugurated.

Dr. Tina Pippin advised me to view videos on Youtube about the campaign’s past work, including a short documentary that was broadcast on the now-defunct ASC-TV television station.

Students who wish to get involved are encouraged to attend the event on February 16th, contact Dr. Tina Pippin via email, or reach out to the campaign on Twitter at @livingwageasc.

About The Author

Alex is a junior Creative Writing Major and Music Minor at Agnes Scott College. She likes exploring, sad music, and all things literary.