On a typical weekday in Alston Student Center, the sounds of reality TV shows and students chatting can be heard drifting up from the Hub. On February 16th, however, Victoria Wallace ‘18 was singing.
Rise Up- Victoria Wallace ‘18 at the LWC Economic Justice Teach In https://t.co/d63uMjPf3v
— Agnes Scott Living Wage (@livingwageasc) February 16, 2018
“We’re gonna walk it out / and move mountains,” Wallace belted into the microphone. She chose to sing Audra Day’s “Rise Up” at the Living Wage Campaign’s Economic Justice Teach-In in support of the hourly workers at Agnes Scott College who, despite the campaign’s 23-year effort, are still not paid a living wage. The event purposefully coincided with Agnes Scott College’s Founder’s Day.
As Wallace ended her song to much applause, Dr. Tina Pippin, a religion professor who has worked with this campaign since its beginning, stepped up to the mic and reported that the Living Wage Campaign was disrupting a meeting President Kiss was having upstairs. “We are being disruptive, so let’s hear it!”
Jennifer Lund of the Center for Global Learning spoke to the gathered audience, saying that Agnes Scott is “a well-resourced institution [in] a well-resourced country. It is our ethical and moral responsibility to provide a living wage. It is right and just.” Lund also noted that a significant part of the college’s revenue comes from movies filmed on campus, and it is the efforts of these hourly employees that make the campus beautiful enough to be a coveted film location.
Melissa McCarthy and Gillian Jacobs in the trailer for “Life of the Party,” the latest film to feature Agnes Scott’s campus. Photo Credit: youtube.com screen capture.
Hourly workers at Agnes Scott also face many issues that are not related to wage. These instances, recounted by Dr. Pippin during the Teach-In, include a custodian who was yelled and cursed at by a supervisor, and times where custodians had to bring their own supplies because the college had decided to purchase cheaper supplies instead of asking the opinions of the professionals — the custodians themselves. “These things are often invisible and go unspoken,” said Pippin. In addition to workers being paid less than they deserve and need, winter and summer breaks mean that workers go without pay for four months out of the year.
Della Spurley, an employee of the college until her retirement in 2010, shared her story. “I worked here for 46 years, but it seemed like a thousand,” she said. “When I first came here, my take-home pay was nineteen dollars a week.” She stated that even now, few workers are paid above $15 an hour. “Agnes Scott needs to hire more people. We’re not mules and horses, we’re just doing the best we can.”
Photo Credit: Tina Pippin
Spurley also had a direct message for President Kiss. “I have a challenge to her now,” Spurley said, in light of President Kiss’ planned end of term at Agnes. “As part of her legacy, I ask that she does what she promised me at one of my retirement parties. Make the base pay fifteen dollars. It is time for her to make that a part of her legacy.”
Emma Fischer recounted parts of the movement that feel positive, including the reactions of “folks” she’s talked to, and their willingness to tell others about this issue. Fischer, who runs the Campaign’s Twitter account, also praised the efficacy of social media, an outlet that previous alumnae of the Campaign weren’t able to use.
Injustices against hourly workers have been going on long before the 23 years the Living Wage Campaign has existed. In 1966, The Profile ran an editorial article about laundry workers. They had no air conditioning, little ventilation, and were making $23 per week. “I looked through [the following] issues of The Profile, and nothing changed. It kind of got left there, as things do,” Pippin said.
Image via Tina Pippin; archive.org
A 2015 list of proposed changes, or a “Dream List,” was hung on the wall in the Hub:
Photo Credit: Alex Brown
Dr. Pippin also spoke to the importance of faculty being involved with the campaign: “[We] have got to work on getting faculty involved. It’s very easy to close our doors… that’s the privilege of tenure.”
A current sophomore, Kristina Kimball, delivered an impassioned statement on her work with President Kiss’ resolution, a letter that details President Kiss’ accomplishments during her time with the college. Kimball said there is a line that states that President Kiss had made progress on the issue of a living wage. “President Kiss, I respect you, but I’m not going to lie for you,” Kimball said. “I will be taking that line out of the resolution.” The audience applauded.
Kristina Kimball ‘20. Photo Credit: Alex Brown
An Aramark employee who had just finished her shift came to the microphone to voice her opinion. “I’m tired of struggling,” she said. “Where can we meet somewhere that I can still love my job and feed my kids? Now summer is coming, and I’m looking for another job.”
The Campaign ended the event with a chant:
“What do we want/need?” “A living wage!”
“When do we want it — besides yesterday?” “Now!”
The Campaign plans to continue their activism by posting educational flyers around campus to further raise awareness of these injustices.
If you missed the event, it is available as a podcast on Dr. Pippin’s website.
Right to left: Jillian A. Wells ‘10 and Helen Cox ‘10, student co-leaders of the Living Wage Campaign from 2006 to 2010; Kristina Kimball ‘20, Emma Fischer ‘18.