Georgetown University’s board of directors ought to be renamed the Hoya Billionaire Club. Aside from a few Jesuits, the board consists primarily of highly successful capitalists. Their cause of the moment: rescuing Georgetown from the verge of bankruptcy.

The Georgetown Solidarity Committee, on the other hand, is pretty leery of capitalism. The members of Solidarity are typically not seen walking around campus in dark suits. Their cause of the moment: the Living Wage.

So, when the Georgetown Solidarity Committee barges into a board of directors meeting, two worlds collide. Nobody on the board of directors has what might be termed a “controversial” haircut. Although the board members are not actually billionaires (though some probably pack nine figures), they are rich enough that they do not know what to make of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee.

Most Georgetown students, for that matter, do not know what to make of the Solidarity Committee, or the Living Wage campaign.

At last week’s board of directors meeting the members of the Solidarity Committee read a list of ten demands, calling for even subcontracted university employees to receive $14.93 an hour including benefits.

Last year the university agreed to raise the mark to $8.50, but our Georgetown is better than this. Why not raise the wages another $6.43 an hour?

On the surface this sounds like a good idea. But it is not.

Solidarity says the money is there, it is just a matter of priorities. They want contracted workers – the people that clean the Leavey Center for example – to be paid $14.93 an hour. But this is more than the amount earned by custodial workers who are hired directly by Georgetown. This is more than many Georgetown employees are paid. To raise the wages for contracted workers to $14.93, Georgetown would have to raise all employees’ wages to $14.93.

This would cost the university millions of dollars. Solidarity likes to say Georgetown can afford this if it pays DeGioia nearly $600,000. You could pay DeGioia in fish sticks and you’d still need millions of dollars.

Even if Georgetown had the money – which it does not – the Living Wage would still be a bad idea.

The wage $14.93 is derived from a report called “The Self-Sufficiency Standard for the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area.” It is the hourly wage that both spouses need to raise two children.

To insist, however, that the wages for all university workers must be raised to $14.93, Solidarity assumes that every employee has two children and a spouse who earns the same wage. This wage is much higher than adults without children need. The wage is not just senselessly high for many young employees, it is dangerously high.

Imagine the case of a young custodial worker who does not speak English. His wages are suddenly raised to $14.93 an hour. This paranormal wage assures that he will never take a job as a slightly-more skilled laborer at $9.50 an hour. He will not be able to move to an $11.00 an hour job that trains him with a new skill or teaches him English which he can then use to get a $17.00 an hour job.

The high-wages would put workers in a wage trap, assuring that they will work as Georgetown custodians for their entire lives – for all intents and purposes, the wage places them in indentured servitude.

There are better solutions for Georgetown. Rather than paying unaffordable wages, Georgetown could offer free English classes at the skill-level of workers. The cost of hiring two full-time English teachers, who could teach daily sessions for our sub-contracted workers could be less than $100,000 dollars.

Georgetown students could volunteer to help teach the classes or tutor workers one-on-one. They could serve as advocates when these workers are mistreated, but also help them get to a better situation. An English program for Georgetown’s workers, while costing the university less, would help the workers more – it could give them a future beyond custodial labor.

While Solidarity has arranged lessons or hosted breakfasts for the workers in the past, this has never become an institutionalized program. If this were an organized program run out of VPS, lots of students would rally behind it. The university could even arrange, relatively inexpensively, for these to be work-study jobs. This would be a better use of the university dollar than paying hundreds of work-study students to sit at desks across campus.

The Solidarity Committee has given the university until Mar. 14 to comply with their demands. If the university does not comply, the Solidarity Committee will likely stage a prolonged sit-in, like their counterparts at Harvard did a few years ago.

If they really care about the university and the workers (and do not just want to revel in the glory of their Crimson counterparts) the Committee will stay at the table after Mar. 14.

The university might not comply with Solidarity’s demands – it probably cannot afford to. But there are other ways for Georgetown to live up to its mission. Georgetown is a university, designed to educate. Why not apply that mission all the way to the custodial workers? Forcing our custodial staff into indentured servitude need not be the only way forward.

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