President Urgo, let’s make a campus living wage a reality

Dear President Urgo,

We were happy to read your recent all-campus email describing your anticipation for the semester ahead.  We too feel an exhilarating mix of trepidation for the future and enthusiasm for the potential held in the present.  Potential, especially, for our ability to make a positive change for the frequently overlooked community members to whom we owe so much.

That’s why we were especially inspired to read your acknowledgment of the ongoing distress and worry that the state pay freeze has caused in our campus community, particularly for the grounds, housekeeping, and maintenance staff who are paid the lowest salaries on campus.  In fact, several of these staff members earn well below a living wage, defined as the gross income needed to support one’s self and family with basic essentials.  In St. Mary’s County, according to Pennsylvania State University’s living wage calculator, you might be surprised to learn that the living wage for a single parent raising one child is $34,317.  Many of our grounds, housekeeping, and maintenance staff members are in fact single parents, however, they make salaries as low as $24,500.

It also surprised us to learn that the presence and growth of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station has caused a radical increase in the median income of St. Mary’s County residents, jumping up to $88,444 in 2010 – making our area’s median income no significantly different than that of the Washington, D.C. – Arlington – Alexandria area.  Despite this, St. Mary’s staff members have seen only meager increases in their salaries, not nearly enough to keep up with the rising cost of living in the County.

This discrepancy is alarming, but we need not be hopeless.  St. Mary’s has taught us the importance of respect, inclusiveness, and social responsibility, and the challenge posed by inadequate staff wages presents an opportunity to move closer to our stated ideals.  We are confident that the diverse and creative minds of our campus can collaborate to not only remedy the problem, but promote lasting, meaningful changes that will uplift our community as a whole.

To echo the insightful message you delivered to the Board of Trustees this past December, “…we do not understand ourselves to be reliant on the course of events for our progress; on the contrary, we feel the burden of being responsible for the course of events.”

President Urgo, we look forward to working with you, staff, faculty, and fellow students to find a way for all campus employees to earn the living wage they deserve.

Emily Saari ‘12, Hortensia Montoya ‘12, and Abiola Akanni ‘15

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