BRUNSWICK — More than a hundred Bowdoin students joined workers and the members of the Bowdoin Labor Alliance at a rally Thursday to call on the college to raise the starting pay for housekeepers and other facilities workers from $12.25 to $15 an hour so that they earn a living wage.

“It doesn’t take a college education to earn a better living,” said Sherry Cousins, a housekeeper at the rally. “I’m sure we work hard enough to deserve it.”

Cousins said her hourly pay has increased just over $4 in 20 years.

Sandy Greene, another housekeeper at the college, has received an average wage hike of roughly 38 cents per year in the 10 years she’s been at the school, for a total increase of $3.95 since she started. She said she makes $1 more than somebody hired today.

“For the hard work we do every day, we think we deserve better paychecks,” Greene said. “I don’t really care what the college calls me. A housekeeper or a janitor, they’re just words. I’d like to get paid a fair wage.”

Under a new wage plan starting July 1, housekeepers will make an average of $14.95 per hour, an increase from the current $13.97 per hour. Factoring in the “shift differential” – which means that staff are paid additional wages for less desirable shifts like weekends, certain holidays or nights – the average housekeeper will earn $15.57.

In Cumberland County, the average “maid and housekeeper,” as classified by the Maine Department of Labor, earns $11.28 per hour, 28 cents above the state’s minimum wage.

While Bowdoin’s starting and average rates are above that, they are also below the $18.73 it would require for the average renter to afford a two-bedroom home in Brunswick, according to data from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

Thursday’s rally, which also drew faculty and community members, was the culmination of a yearlong campaign spearheaded by Bowdoin Labor Alliance, students, workers and alumni after the Bowdoin Orient, the student newspaper, published a story about wages for the housekeeping staff.

The rally coincided with a visit from the trustees to the college, which “prides itself upon its regard for the ‘Common Good’ yet pays its hourly workers less than many local high schools and fast food restaurants,” organizers said.

“Bowdoin would not be Bowdoin if we didn’t have beautiful grounds and beautiful halls,” said Benjamin Ray, a student and co-founder of the labor alliance.

“My dad waits tables and my mom’s a school nurse,” he said. “The housekeepers and other workers at Bowdoin could be my family. They are my family. I won’t stop fighting until people I love stop struggling and start living.”

After the rally, speakers and attendees marched to the office of Bowdoin President Clayton Rose to deliver a petition with over 1,000 signatures, demanding a “living wage for all Bowdoin workers and the establishment of a committee between workers, students, faculty and the administration to achieve this goal,” organizers said.

Tracey Taylor, a housekeeper who has worked for the college for six years, said she has lost faith in an administration that she thinks just wants “mindless workers.”

“At our mandatory meeting once a year, we’re told how many millions Bowdoin has, but we’re told there isn’t any money for a living wage or fair pay,” she said, calling it a “slap in the face.”

Bowdoin College’s endowment was reported at $1.6 billion at the end of the last fiscal year.

“I’m so tired of fighting just to be treated fair or get the respect that we all deserve,” Taylor said.

Like many of her coworkers, Taylor has at times gone to the food bank to help feed her family, she said, adding that she is not ashamed of it.

“Nobody who goes to the food bank is happy that they have to go there,” said Dallas Denery, a Bowdoin history professor, “but they are grateful that they can go there, and there are times when parents will show up and begin to cry because they know that for just a moment they can be relieved of the gnawing anxiety that they won’t have food to feed their children. This is why what you are doing here is so important.”

He encouraged students to keep asking the difficult and at times uncomfortable questions, like why the administration is not using the current capital campaign to raise money for facilities and staff wages.

“It is not Bowdoin College’s job to solve the problem of global economic inequality,” he said, “but it is the (job) of the college to solve the problems that we see around us.”

College officials have said that with the wages above the state and county average and with a competitive benefits plan, their employees are paid a fair wage, and one that they feel is attractive for employees. Of the 57 housekeepers on staff, their average term of service is nine years, and most open positions are filled within 60 days of posting.

According to Matt Orlando, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer, the school offers a benefits package that includes retirement contributions, health, dental and vision insurance, disability and life insurance, 12 paid holidays, two weeks of paid vacation time, 12 days of paid sick time, tuition assistance and scholarships for dependents and more, with a value of about $19,000.

“The professionals in our human resources department spend a significant amount of time each year looking carefully at compensation data and benefit packages, analyzing market conditions, and thinking creatively about ways to enhance employee programs and our work environment,” officials said in a statement after the Orient article was published last year. “Hourly workers are essential and valued deeply by the college.

“We will continue to work hard to earn their dedication and to make sure they are compensated fairly, treated with respect, and acknowledged as indispensable members of the Bowdoin community.”

Hannah LaClaire can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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