Moral Contradictions

Friday, April 15, 2005


I'm a little late on commenting on the living-wage campaign going on at the University of Mary Washington in my hometown of Fredericksburg. Here is an article describing the background... basically students are taking cue from their successful counterparts at Georgetown.

This editorial disagrees with the concept of a "living wage" especially in regards to a state institution. Letters to the editor UMW is irresponsible in what it pays its employees and Editorial reflected disrespect for low-wage UMW employees basically sum up how I feel about the Free-Lance Star's reaction. I shall expand on these letters and try to add a little more insight.

Stating that the university has an obligation to taxpayers to keep costs down and then arguing that low-paid workers can receive welfare benefits does not make sense. I am definitely not the best debater but I do believe that the second assertion negates the first. Taxpayers still pay one way or the other, yet a higher salary is the better moral option as the worker does not lose dignity when they apply for welfare.

Additionally, I agree that we should hold state institutions to a different standard than private employers, but not in this. All places have an interest to keep costs down, whether they answer to taxpayers, share-holders, or consumers. Paying your employees enough to survive, especially in Fredericksburg's crazy-expensive housing market, is morally simple.

The editorial also uses a broad brush to prove the living wage campaign is flawed because not every employee is a "head of the household". It then says this campaign will primarily help the housekeepers and groundskeepers. Newflash to the editor! State employees who have college degrees and who are head of the house (or are the only one) take "higher skilled" jobs and are paid the same wages. Have you seen the starting pay for many library assistant jobs at universities?

Stereotypically dismissing the living-wage campaign and saying that the housekeepers, etc should be content because they have access to food-stamps is wrong. I agree with personal responsibility and I partly agree with the editor's charge to UMW to provide classes and training. If we're going to use broad stereotypes, then one can say that many of the workers probably have to have second jobs somewhere or families to raise and they don't have time to take the classes. You can always assume things when you want them to fit your argument.

As one the of letters said, teaching a man to fish is useless if there are no fish in the pond. I say that paying workers more than peanuts gives them a renewed dignity and incentive to work harder: everyone wins.


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