MU community members gather to raise minimum wage to $15 per hour

Many university employees attended this rally, including representatives from Missouri Jobs with Justice and Coalition of Graduate Workers.
People gather around Tradition's Plaza as they listen to the various speakers at the $15 for MU Rally on April 25, 2019.

CORRECTION: Jameson Wells is the chair of the Missouri Jobs with Justice organizing committee and a volunteer rather than an employee. The Maneater regrets this error.

MU community members gathered at Traditions Plaza, listening to campus employees sharing their stories about living on a wage that makes it difficult for them to make ends meet. These and other employees were rallying to raise the minimum wage at MU to $15 per hour.

“I think it is important that all workers stand together and address injustices wherever they may remain,” graduate student Michael Vierling said. “One of the things that is truly unjust about the university is that they are not paying enough workers a living wage that they can work full time here at the university and have enough money to live and get money for food without having to get a second job.”

Missouri Jobs with Justice volunteer Carol Brown was making phone calls promoting this rally when she spoke to an employee who has been working at MU for 30 years while working at a second job. This did not surprise Brown.

“Sometimes you get people on the phone, and it’s clear they need to talk, so you let them talk,” Brown said. “He needed to be heard. He’s working two jobs because he hasn’t gotten a raise in six years. His wages are so low that he can’t keep up with his rent and his bills. He can’t afford to take his girlfriend out.”

Brown said she believes this is a serious issue that must be addressed.

“People can’t afford to have a life,” Brown said. “People with families, people without families, individuals, nobody needs to work 60 hours a week just to pay their rent and utility bills.”

Brown urged MU and UM System administration to better consider the situation of MU employees being compensated with the minimum wage.

“I want [the UM System and MU] to be ashamed of themselves,” Brown said. “They’re in our community, they depend on our goodwill and they’re not good neighbors. They’re terrible neighbors to the people in our community and they expect the people of our community to pick up the slack for their slacker wages.”

MU employees are compensated based on the merit system. The goal of this system is to reward faculty and staff members who have contributed to the UM System’s mission, according to reporting by the Columbia Missourian.

“[The merit pay system] is a system that leaves a lot of room for human error in terms for how we compensate people,” Jameson Wells, chair of the Missouri Jobs with Justice organizing committee, said. “It’s supposed to compensate people for things like loyalty or results at the workplace, but [instead], it’s compensating people based on what one person decides.”

Because of this, Wells said he wants to do as much as he can to help raise MU employees’ wages to a living wage.

“I want to see people live more full and happy lives,” Wells said. “In the time that I have, I want to be able to say that I contributed as much as I could toward people having things like decent wages and decent workplaces.”

Kenny Bassett, a mechanical trades specialist master pipe fitter, has been working at MU for the past 45 years and spoke at the rally. He said he believes that change is still possible.

“I believe that the university listens,” Bassett said. “They don’t want angry people working for them. It could be that they don’t understand that the merit raise system benefits [only] a few people and angers the rest.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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