Pay Them What They’re Worth

Last year, Pomona College gave its
housekeeping staff a 2 percent pay raise, but this year the college should offer more.
The cost of living is increasing, housekeepers remain poorly integrated into the Pomona community, and recent policy changes increase the amount of work
housekeepers have to do within their normal hours while decreasing their overall income by eliminating overtime.

Right now, housekeepers are
underpaid. Unlike Dining Services workers, housekeepers are not unionized. They
have fewer protections at work, fewer forums to voice their concerns, and less
ability to negotiate with the administration. Their salaries start at $11 per hour. Some have worked at Pomona for several years through temp agencies, in
positions that do not offer insurance.

At the same time, the cost of
living is rising. Although the national inflation rate was just over 1 percent last
year, real estate prices in Los Angeles’ metropolitan area rose 16 percent, increasing rent and property tax burdens. Gas prices have already risen 9 percent since January.

A raise for housekeepers would also
help us better recognize their contributions to our community.
Housekeepers are separated and isolated from students and professional staff and
faculty members by language and class differences. Housekeeping staff are not expected,
or invited, to interact with students or members of the professional staff or faculty. A pay
raise wouldn’t integrate housekeepers, but it would at least affirm that Pomona
supports them.

Pomona has enacted policy changes that have led to
less overall income and more work for housekeepers in the name of reducing operating
costs. I agree that Pomona could stand to spend less money overall. However, we
should start by cutting advertising funds for student organizations, pet
initiatives for program and department chairs, and conference travel money for
professional staff—not housekeepers’ income. Is it fair to spend $400 per chair set and $900 per table set to install furniture outside Walker Lounge, while at the same time cutting housekeepers’ hours? A new housekeeper making $11 per hour would have to work two full 40-hour weeks to afford just one of those table sets. 

Because of one of the new policy changes, housekeepers are no longer allowed to work overtime. Until recently, housekeepers
earned 1.5 times their hourly wage in overtime pay when they had to do extra
work. That overtime money paid housekeepers who covered for sick co-workers or had to spend overtime cleaning when their assigned area was unusually messy.

Now that overtime is no longer allowed, housekeepers are under
more time pressure to perform what is already a tiring job. They face occupational
hazards such as exposure to harmful chemicals, pesticides, and broken glass. They
perform physically exhausting and underappreciated work like moving furniture and
cleaning up garbage left by students. They should be compensated accordingly.

One way to address stagnant wages for low-earning workers and disproportionate salary growth in executive positions is linking what top earners make to the income of their janitors and housekeepers. That’s the logic behind the St. Mary’s Wages proposal, a plan by students and faculty members at St. Mary’s College in Maryland to cap executive pay at 10 times the wages of the lowest-earning staff member. 

A pay increase for housekeepers
would acknowledge the demand Pomona places on their time and energy. It would
be a step toward integrating housekeepers in particular, and service staff members as
a whole, into the on-campus community, and make Pomona a proactive leader in addressing widening income gaps and rising rates of poverty and near-poverty. We can, and should, pay our housekeepers more. 

Nicholas Sundback PO’14 is majoring in international relations, and is a member of the ASPC Committee on Campus Climate and Diversity.

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