Livable is the minimum

The college should prioritize paying livable staff wages.

By Editorial Board

Pia Contreras

While the school year may be coming to a close, a new fiscal year and the implementation of a new College budget is fast approaching. This is a moment to reflect on what should be included among the college’s highest priorities before these decisions go into effect on July 1. 

Paying all staff at least a livable wage should be at the top of the priority list.

At the college, benefits-eligible starting wages begin at $14. The livable wage in Vermont is estimated to be at least $15.72 for workers without children. For part-time staff working under 1,000 hours per year, starting wages begin at $12. As staff describe waiting in line at the food bank or struggling to pay for the gas they need to get to work, the college needs to take a look at its lowest paying jobs — unlivable wages are unacceptable and do not represent the value that the college ought to place on staff, nor do they reflect the respect for human dignity that the college should prioritize as an employer.

We commend the college for honoring their commitment to maintaining wage continuity throughout the pandemic, as this was an important first step in ensuring fair compensation of workers. But as the college assesses its budget for the coming fiscal year, it is crucial that further steps are taken to guarantee a livable wage for staff. 

A hiring and wage freeze was put in place at the dawn of the pandemic — while hiring seems to be resuming, current staff have been asked to do more work over the last year with less manpower and stagnant pay. We need both new and existing staff to be paid a livable wage now more than ever, especially as the college struggles to fill those open positions. 

While this decision rests on the Board of Trustees, who approve the annual budget, students can be aware of these shortcomings and continue to voice their support for staff. Student activism in the past has garnered progress and forced the College’s hand, such as when base wage increases happened in large part due to student calls for action in the fall of 2019.  

The onset of the pandemic has only made the jobs of staff more arduous. The College has provided amenities for students, such as food trucks and tents, to try to appease student concerns. If the College is willing to address student needs, students have the power to advocate for higher staff wages. We can use our privilege to highlight the importance of staff in the community — this means vocalizing our support for fair wages.

At the end of the day, however, this issue falls squarely on the shoulders of Middlebury College and its Board of Trustees, who have the final say regarding institutional priorities. If we are to show that we truly care about the invaluable efforts of our staff — whose hard work and sacrifices allowed us to successfully weather on-campus semesters through a pandemic — we need to compensate them with a livable wage.

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’ editorial board.