In February of 2021, in the face of rising student and staff discontent, the board of trustees down at IU announced an initiative to pay all full time appointed staff at least $15/hr. While this initially seemed like great news for IU workers, the raise in reality only benefited about 20 or fewer employees due to its limited scope. Such measures are common when administrators want to quell unrest: they toss some crumbs to their employees, send a press release to the media, and hope the trouble dies down.
As workers across the country are successfully organizing, both in the private sector (such as Amazon and Starbucks workers) and on university campuses, university administrators are scrambling to prevent worker uprisings on their own campuses. Here at Purdue, students, staff, and faculty are forming initiatives of our own. American Association of University Professors (AAUP); Graduate Rights for Our Wellbeing (GROW), Greater Lafayette Democratic Socialists of America and Purdue Young Democratic Socialists of America, have joined together to demand a living wage for all workers, regardless of employer, classification, or campus, in the Purdue system. In response, the Purdue Administration has announced that it will institute pay raises for graduate students and select staff. However, this decision is no different than the “pay raise” at IU. It offers crumbs to some of the lowest paid and most overworked employees in a bid to paper over glaring inequities.
Purdue’s wage increase does nothing for part-time employees and workers employed by contractors like Aramark, leaving many employees at Purdue making poverty level wages. This also incentivizes the university to transfer more positions from full time to part time, and to continue to privatize many sectors of the university as it has already done with dining through the recent contract with Aramark. That’s why we demand a universal minimum wage of $15/hr for all Purdue workers, part-time and full-time, contractors included. Purdue must terminate the contract with Aramark at the earliest possible opportunity and start employing those dining staff as workers at a public university who make a living wage. We also need guarantees that the university will keep up with increases in cost of living in the future, especially in light of the effects COVID and rising inflation. Therefore, we demand that Purdue raise the wage floor to $20/hr by 2026 for all workers and make the necessary plans to increase their graduate stipends to reflect this wage increase.
The university claims that the wage increases are based on a market research survey, but have not released the results of that survey. However, many other sources (e.g. the MIT living wage calculator and the Department of Housing and Urban Development) indicate that the new graduate student stipend of $24,124 is still well below a living wage.
Purdue is a public institution, not a private business. Refusing to pay all workers a living wage cannot be excused by market logic, because Purdue doesn’t exist to make a profit. Purdue exists to educate and serve the public. Tuition doesn’t need to be raised a cent to pay all workers a living wage. Taxes on corporations and the rich have made public education free all over the world, while state and federal funding for higher education in the US has plummeted thanks to neoliberal privatization of public education encouraged by politicians like former Governor of Indiana (and current Purdue President) Mitch Daniels.
At the end of the day, collective action is the only way to secure real change. Down at IU, the administration’s bid to quell dissent has failed: IU grad students are now on strike to secure union recognition. We support their efforts and call on Purdue students, staff, and faculty to come together in solidarity to make change here too.
Sign our petition here!