By Shannon Desmond
For almost a decade there has been an ongoing dispute between the custodial staff and the college to help grant an increase in wages for custodians.
In recent months, there was a bill proposed that would raise the minimum wage in Vermont to $15 an hour. When the bill was vetoed by governor Phil Scott, it meant the custodial staff would need to keep fighting.
After vetoing the bill, Scott made a statement that he hardly knew of any workplaces that paid employees less than $15 an hour, to which Graham Lebel, a custodian at St. Michael’s said, “Hey, right here.”
That changed a month ago with the recent agreement between the custodial staff, the Union, SLAM, and the school’s Human Resources department ratified the contract to increase in the custodial staff wages to $15 an hour starting January 1, 2019.
Lebel has worked here for 15 years and has been a member of the Union since its inception. He attends monthly meetings where members can voice concerns. The workers’ Union includes more than 200 workers from the greater Burlington area, including workers from the Burlington school systems, the Parks and Recreation Department, and other employees who occupy public service jobs.
Lebel said that although he recognizes that the college is going through financial issues, he feels that the recent raise to $15 an hour for the custodial staff across the board was a reasonable request for a decent living wage.
The Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) is an on-campus student organization “As a labor rights advocate group, we work to assist groups on campus to achieve and establish fair treatment and wages. Historically, this has generally focused on employees on campus, such as adjuncts and custodians.”
SLAM has been working alongside the custodial staff here at Saint Michael’s College since 2012 in their effort to raise the wages.
Working full time, this raise will leave the custodial staff with annual earnings of around $30,000, the necessary income level to live comfortably in the majority of the United States. “The janitorial staff here works really hard,” said Ethan McCandless ‘20. “A lot of kids treat the dorms very poorly, over the weekends especially. That being said, I still wake up every Sunday morning and it looks like nothing even happened.”
The Department of Health and Human Services deemed an annual income of just over $25,000 as the line of poverty for a family of four. At 40 hours a week this would require a single individual to work at around $12 an hour to stay at or just above the poverty line.
Prior to the recent wage increase for the custodial staff, the majority of custodians here at Saint Michael’s were working for $12.50 an hour, just above the hourly rate necessary to stay above the poverty line.
Although on paper earning $12.50 an hour working a full time position leaves someone above the poverty line, many people fail to take into consideration the unexpected expenses such as hospital bills or car repairs. This recent raise in the custodial wages here at Saint Michael’s College will help to negate the worry of these expenses, said Lebel.