I attended the before-mentioned Living Wage forum between the Board of Trustees, the Living Wage Now group, and other interested parties.
VP Anderson and VP Rinker made a presentation regarding the situation. In this presentation, they indicated that the only employees directly or indirectly employed at WMU that earn below what the Living Wage campaign describes as a "living wage" are those employees under CSM who do custodial work in our residence halls. The wages paid to these employees are not borne by tuition dollars, but entirely by room and board; put another way, the students in the residence halls pay for the CSM services. Any increase in the costs of these services will be placed directly on the backs of the students in the residence halls.
Due to the Western Edge program, which locks in the cost of room and board from freshman year onward for students, any increase in costs will be paid by incoming freshman. Any increases to the living wage and thus increased costs to students will be paid by subsequently new freshman, as the current residence hall renters have their rates fixed.
Costs that may be imposed by a wage increase:
• Room and Board costs; The services of CSM are paid for directly by room and board. The increased costs to students in the residence halls would be approxemately $100 per student, per year.
• Management costs; WMU will have to monitor the activites of their vendors and also create and continuously update their living wage calculations.
• Litigation costs; WMU may take on litigation risk due to agreeing to pay a "living wage," and the potential legal disagreement on what defines a "living wage."
• Purchase cost; WMU may take on risk that vendors will not work with us as their wage and compensation information is proprietary. By forcing vendors to disclose to WMU during the bidding process how much they will pay their employees, they will become less competitive. This injures the business we do work with and may discourage other vendors from bidding for our contracts in the future.
These are simply the costs imposed on WMU and WMU students. A higher wage my disqualify some employees with reduced productivity from employment. This is supported by vast evidence indicating that increases to minimum wages creates greater unemployment among low-skilled individuals. Instead of raising costs on some students, WMU may simply employ less workers. One would imagine that any wage is better than none.
When questioned about accepting additional student costs, the Living Wage Now representative indicated that while they would be willing to accept increased costs to implement a living wage, they had no idea if the students who would actually be paying those costs would be willing to pay them. Furthermore, because the costs would be primarily paid by incoming freshmen, it is difficult to see how they could determine this information.
After the presentations by VP Anderson, VP Rinker and the Living Wage Now campaign, the floor was opened to Q&A from Board members and from interested parties. The board had many intelligent questions for both the VPs in attendance and the Living Wage Now representatives. After which, there were comments made by others.
I spoke to the board and thanked the VPs for their dedication to the students of Western. I stressed the recent increases in tuition costs greater than the rate of inflation, the high unemployment in the state, and other financial burdens that Western students face. I illustrated the financial frustrations of students by pointing out the recent rally in Lansing, in which students from Universities across Michigan lobbied legislatures for more funding to ease the burden on students. In times of economic leanness, it is irresponsible for WMU to be placing a greater burden on students for services not related to research or education, the two core functions and purposes of Western Michigan. By raising the costs to students, we are working contrary to our goals of increasing enrollment, creating an environment in our residence halls that breeds retention, promoting the Western Edge, and providing an affordable, world-class education to any qualified student who wishes to be taught at Western Michigan University.
I encourage the VPs and other parties who are members of the purchasing policies of WMU to be mindful to the core stakeholders of the University and realize that there, indeed, is no such thing as a free lunch, and that any increasing costs for services are placed on the shoulders of the students.
While there are many other reasons to not support the Living Wage Now campaign, one is especially troubled by any cost-increasing measure that would be an additional burden on Western students.