Notre Dame statement on the “living wage”

Author: John Affleck-Graves


The following statement is from John Affleck-Graves, executive vice president of theUniversityofNotre Dame, in regard to the Campus Labor Action Projects call for a so-calledliving wagefor University employees.

We applaud the concern of our students for this issue, and in fact, we agree with them.We affirm here our long-standing commitment to the principle of fair and just wages – aliving wage,if you will – for all of our employees.

Over the past few months, several university administrators, including our president, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., and I have engaged in good-faith and productive conversation with members of the Campus Labor Action Project, student government, and our Staff Advisory Council.We have also read the CLAP Living Wage Report , which was presented earlier this spring.These exchanges of information have been productive and informative.They reflect our shared interest in maintaining a campus climate that values and respects each and every member.As we consider this issue, however, several points are worth noting.

Significantly, we believe that Notre Dame already provides a fair and just wage for employees.In light of the Campus Labor Action Projects appeal to Catholic social teaching, a foundation of that teaching is the concept of the common good.In addition to their base wages, employees at Notre Dame also earn a host of additional benefits, all of which add up to a compensation package that makes Notre Dame the employer of choice for workers in this region.Many of the most valuable elements of our employeescompensation packages stem from the leveraging that a community or group can achieve.We believe that, on close inspection, both Notre Dames wages and its compensation package meet not only the test of our marketplace, but also of our special obligations as a Catholic university.

As we consider the issue of employee compensation and workplace conditions, the CLAP Living Wage Reports notion that Notre Dame employees feel disrespected, excluded orfear reprisal,if they speak up on their own behalf is deeply disturbing.We already have several channels in place through which employees can bring complaints and concerns.These include the Staff Advisory Council (composed of elected representatives of the staff), the Office of Institutional Equity, the Office of Human Resources, appointed ombudspersons, and a forthcoming hotline that will allow confidential reporting. We encourage employees to use these mechanisms to share their experiences and thoughts.We will continue to evaluate and strengthen these channels and will do everything in our power to assure that the Universitys tradition of mutually respectful, trust-based dialogue with its employees continues to prevail.

While exchanges between the University administration and various student groups have been informative, in candor, the dialogue is appropriately one that regularly occurs between the Universitys representatives and its formal employee channels.For that reason, we determined that a task force, as recommended by the Campus Labor Action Project, would be an inappropriate means to examine labor policies and practices.Instead, we encourage our employees to make full use of the channels provided.In turn, we pledge to do all within our power to assure employees that they are secure when voicing their concerns.To that end, Associate Vice President for Human Resources Robert McQuade and I will continue to meet with the Staff Advisory Council, as representatives of their peers, and with other employee groups as has long been the custom at Notre Dame.

That said, we nevertheless feel compelled to respond to many of the points raised in the Campus Labor Action Projects open letter to the Notre Dame community.

  1. Notre Dame has long recognized the right of our employees to unionize if they wish, and has stated that if they do vote to have a union the University will bargain with itin good faith.At the same time, the University always has tried to conduct itself in its relations with its employees so that they would feel as we do: that there is nothing a union can accomplish for them that cannot be accomplished through an open and honest relationship such as has traditionally prevailed between the University and its employees.
  2. While the market cannot be the sole arbiter of compensation and other aspects of the employer-employee relationship, it cannot be dismissed either as simply unimportant. And the fact is that in theSouth Bendarea labor market, the average salary of our service employees is 15 percent above the market.# In arguing the merits of itsliving wageproposal, the Campus Labor Action Project cites evidence thatmost firms absorb the wage increases through reduced training and recruitment costs.However, Notre Dame already enjoys a rate of employee turnover (8.6 percent) that is notably lower than the average for universities (11 percent) and more than twice as low as for all large private sector organizations (20 percent). Whats more, cutting training is precisely what we should not want to encourage, since it is through training that employees add to their value in the marketplace and are enabled to rise to more responsibleand lucrativepositions.# Among the very valuable benefits the University provides, apart from each employees salary, are:
  • Covering on average 87 percent of the cost of health insurance, as well as subsidizing the costs of dental insurance* Covering the cost of $25,000 of life insurance for each employee* Providing long-term disability insurance for each employee at no cost to the employee* Providing a pension plan for staff employees at no cost to the employee* Tuition benefits for employees, spouses and children that far exceed similar benefits in general industry and even other academic institutions
  1. The Campus Labor Action Project calculates its living wage on a set of assumptions that does not accurately represent our employee demographics.In its report, the Campus Labor Action Project takes a family of four as its measuring rod, but ignores the fact that 50 percent of workers in this group have a family size of fewer than four people and many are, indeed, single.Furthermore, the Campus Labor Action Projectsliving wageproposal would require the University to engage in actions that are legally dubious, if not, in fact, illegal. Notre Dame cannot inquire about the amount of a spouses income, for example, to determine what is a fair and justorlivingwage for an individual employee.

We would never argue that all is perfection here at Notre Dame. There always will be imperfectionseconomic and other needs that require addressing, inequities that call for remedies. But our system of compensation is neither fundamentally unjust, as the CLAP document implies, or incapable of fairly addressing those needs and inequities that do exist.

Of most importance, to be fairly evaluated, Notre Dames employee compensation must be considered as employees experience it: in its totality.

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