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Budget Crisis is No Excuse!

Virginia’s abominable financial state and the need for less spending should not be invoked to undermine living wage campaigns across the commonwealth.
The College of William and Mary, which receives an annual $45 million from Richmond, is bracing itself for an ambitious plan to cut costs over several years. As much as $12 million may have to be eliminated through June 2004 according to a recent article in the Virginia Gazette (9/11/02). “We are facing desperate times,” says College President Timothy Sullivan, who grabs every occasion to put on the character of a helpless school administrator forced to tighten the belt.

While the budget crisis in Virginia and many other states is real, and a solution to alleviate debt is pressing, it cannot be a weapon of management to deflate the legitimate concerns of low-income public workers at the College, who have been facing “desperate times.”

The W&M Living Wage Campaign, now captained by the Public Service Workers Union, UE Local 160 and supported by the Tidewater Labor Support Committee (TLSC), must continue and beef up its actions, by protesting and picketing. The College illegally refuses to recognize the union as an employee organization (not as a bargaining partner).

The College raised the minimum wage for newly hired employees only, creating an unfair system which breeds resentment among senior workers. These workers still live on poverty wages at one of Virginia’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning! The principle of fairness and justice for all workers stands fast and the rhetoric and urgency of budget cuts shall not alter that.

If budget cuts are necessary, they should take into account human dignity and quality of life. A poll tax-style wage cut across the board, as is suggested by the College’s director of finance Sam Jones, is fiercely unfair and unacceptable. A better solution would be to skim off 20% of all the upper management salaries. What’s the difference between an annual salary of $250,000 and $200,000? It’s much more upsetting to see your pay decrease from $18,000 to $14,400!

If top administrators are paid $200,000+ salaries they surely must be qualified enough to fashion a plan of responsible cutbacks while at the same time paying its most unrecognized employees a decent “good living” wage.

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