Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Friday, President Al Bloom will present his recommendation on the Living Wage to the Board of Managers. Having already distributed copies to the faculty and staff and discussed it with Student Council, President Bloom talked about his proposal with the student body and members of the community at a tea hosted by the Living Wage and Democracy Campaign on Wednesday in Kohlberg Coffee Bar.
Initial reactions to the PresidentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposal by the Living Wage and Democracy Campaign were passionate. In a statement released on September 24th , the campaign wrote that “family health coverage alone is insufficient” and “because the proposal doesn’t clarify the family income requirements for the means test, it is difficult to judge how many low wage staff members would even be eligible to receive this proposed additional benefit.” The campaign also expressed concern over the long-term implementation of a living wage saying, “The proposal must provide for the creation of a permanent college committee to oversee the implementation and maintenance of the standard of a living wage.” The Living Wage and Democracy Campaign was also disappointed in the amount of time required to implement the President’s proposal, which “could take up to three years, but leaves no indication as to how or when the timeline will be decided.”
President Bloom’s proposal recommends “that the Board consider adding a health care subsidy for low income employees of Swarthmore College. This will allow employees who meet a means test for household income the ability to utilize their benefit bank cash for income, instead of having to spend it to purchase health care coverage for their families. This, in turn, will ensure that all Swarthmore employees are able to earn a salary consistent with the level recommended by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Living Wage of $10.72/hour for a single adult.”
In preparation for the tea on Wednesday, President Bloom said that he hoped to explain the motives and constraints behind his proposal. The proposal calls for an investment of $180,000, which “represents $4.5-5 million of endowment to support this very important improvement to our community.” He further stated, “I really believe that, at this point, the college is not in a financial position to go further.” President Bloom defended the decisions behind the proposal, noting that when the ad hoc committee had been investigating a living wage at Swarthmore, they had explicitly said they were not looking at the financial implications of their recommendations. He also commented that “[d]espite how much money [my proposal demands], I really believe we should do this for our staff. But going beyond that begins to make me weigh other priorities of the college in a higher priority.” Three areas that he suggested were high priorities for the college were providing financial aid to international students, continuing various temporary academic programs, and continued education for staff members to enable them to move to higher positions of responsibility.
Along with Melanie Young, Director of Human Resources, and Sue Welsh, Treasurer, President Bloom reiterated these sentiments as he spoke to a crowd of at least 40 people in Kohlberg Coffee Bar. The Living Wage and Democracy Campaign handed out copies of the President’s proposal, the proposal of the ad hoc committee, and a sheet of paper listing details the President’s proposal does not include which “will not create a living wage at Swarthmore” as students gathered to hear President Bloom speak. In response to the audience’s questions, President Bloom remarked, “I was convinced we should give $10.72 an hour” and that this wage increase is “a big jump from two years ago”. Welsh added that with the new healthcare benefits included in the proposal, the wage is “as high as $14.” President Bloom concluded, “I want the staff to have as positive of a life as the College can responsibly support.”
Valerie Maulbeck ’06, who recently joined the Living Wage and Democracy Campaign, said of the discussion, “It was frustrating because he isn’t committed to a Living Wage at Swarthmore” and that “we’re doing so much better than everyone else, but it’s not enough.” She did concede, however, that she is “really happy that we’re doing anything” and that it is tough to find sources for funding a living wage.
Upon reading the proposal, Edward Smith, who has been a staff member at Swarthmore College for a little over two months, stated that “it does need improvement” and that the most glaring omission from the President’s proposal is childcare.
After the discussion that will follow President Bloom’s proposal to the Board of Managers on Friday, the smaller committee of the Board that has already seen his proposal, and expressed their support for it, will continue to meet with President Bloom to discuss the living wage. The Board of Managers will meet again in December to discuss the proposal further and to reach a final decision.