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Ithaca, NY: IC Workers All Deserve to be Paid Living Wage
The Ithaca Journal
Kiera Lewis and Pete Meyers

March 31, 2011
View the Original Article

The Tompkins County Workers' Center (formerly Living Wage Coalition) has long worked on local issues that relate to the necessity of people earning a living wage for their work. Ithaca College, by the same token, has engaged deeply in sustainable practices, especially over the past two years, with the incredible commitment to pay their workers what Ithaca College calls a "Living Wage + 50 Cents."

The definition of sustainability, simply put, incorporates at least three elements: economy, ecology, society. The living wage movement is an attempt to support the social aspect of sustainability through promotion of wages to meet all of one's basic needs. Calculated biannually by Alternatives Federal Credit Union, based on the costs of living in the county, the living wage is the minimum pay for an individual to live adequately without public assistance in this community. It is a growing movement in Tompkins County as the Workers' Center has certified 72 employers as being "living wage certified."

Ithaca College, on the sustainability front, encourages practices such as food waste compost and LEED platinum certified buildings, and has several eco- focused organizations on campus for sustainability. At some point, however, one starts to wonder whether the initiatives' primary purpose is to create a better community for both students and locals or to limit sustainable endeavors to those that create a popular image for the college.

One known issue that has yet to be addressed by Ithaca College is the exclusion of contracted dining services employees from the Living Wage provision. The college says this is because "they aren't our employees." This is on the basis that IC contracts its dining services with other companies, and thus the employees "officially" work as employees of the contracted company — though the company budget, including employee wages, must be approved by IC. Ultimately, all employees working in dining services are paid by Ithaca College, yet we are told they do not deserve a living wage because they still aren't "our employees."

Dining service provider Sodexo boasts fair trade products on campus, providing farmers with a livable wage, yet starts workers at $8.19 in Tompkins County where the livable wage is $11.11 per hour. with health insurance and $12.11 without insurance.

Because of Ithaca College's dedication to sustainability, the Workers' Center has joined forces with a student-led group at Ithaca College, Labor Initiative Promoting Solidarity (LIPS), to hold Ithaca College to its word. By raising its labor standards to require a living wage in its contracted agreement with Sodexo, IC can take the high road in how it treats its dining service workers.

Too many people — in Tompkins County, upstate New York and nationally — are forced to live in poverty. The inability to be an active consumer in one's own community, and potentially drain public resources, are of primary concern in maintaining financially sound local economies, an issue that subsumes all who live in poverty.