A Living Wage

Imagine a job that required you to work 10-hour days. Imagine that you had to spend much of that time on your feet. Now imagine that you had to work nights and weekends, and many holidays too. And imagine that after all of this, your take-home pay was only $8,000 annually. For many Sodexo employees making minimum wage, this is reality.

Minimum wage is making its periodical appearance at the forefront of the political docket. After the Republican-controlled New York Senate blocked a proposal to raise minimum wage in the state — which, at $7.25 an hour, is lowest in the nation — Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a wage increase in his recent State of the State address.

President Obama, too, has been among the prominent voices in the country calling for a higher minimum wage. In his State of the Union address last week, he called for an increase to $9 per hour and for indexing future increases with the rate of inflation.

For us as students, minimum wage perhaps doesn’t rank high on our lists, but for the friendly workers who serve us food, it can mean the difference between being able to put a nutritious meal on the table and going to bed hungry. In 2008, one Sodexo employee estimated that between 65 and 70 percent of campus food service workers relied on some sort of charity to get food.

To make up for this, many Sodexo employees take whatever extra hours they can get their hands on. Some employees often work full-time hours for 13 days in a row — the maximum number of consecutive days allowed — in order to earn as much overtime pay as possible. Some employees have been known to work 17-hour days, only to sleep for just a few hours and start over again the next day.

Supporting an increased minimum wage is, very simply, a matter of humanity. Under our watch, no one working at this University should have to go home not knowing where his or her next meal is coming from. (It should be noted that all full-time Sodexo workers do receive holiday, vacation and sick pay, as well as health and dental insurance.)

Interestingly enough, Sodexo actually expected that there would be a minimum wage increase and factored it into their 2012-13 meal plan rates. We can only hope that they decide to actually pass that money on to their employees.

The long-term economics of minimum wage increases are still up for debate, with both liberal and conservative economists raising sound points, but at the very least there would be great short-term benefits, and at least our hearts would be in the right place.

We would also be remiss not to point out the direct cost to us, the students. Increasing the salaries of the 260 or so full-time employees by just $1 per hour would cost Sodexo in excess of $280,000 per year — a cost that they would pass on to us students — not to mention that they also have over 250 student employees making minimum wage whose salaries would have to go up too. But if it’s between the people who serve us going hungry and us having to pay slightly more for our meals, we feel that we must go with the latter.