Living Wage Fact Sheet
- The UTK Council for a Living Wage has defined a living wage in the Knoxville area as $9.50 per hour plus basic benefits. A living wage provides a family of four with an annual income of $19,760. This is a "bare-bones" income that includes little or nothing in the way of amenities such as entertainment, travel or educational enrichment, but it allows a working family to live with dignity, free of dependence on public subsidies such as TennCare, food stamps and public housing.
- Of the 2124 hourly non-exempt (hourly) workers employed at UT-Knoxville, the UTK Department of Human Resources estimates that at present some 816 workers (38 percent of the total) earn less than a living wage; further, based on minimum hourly wages for their job classifications, an additional 860 positions in the UTK workforce are vulnerable to sinking below that level as new employees replace those leaving university employment.
- UTK's Department of Human Resources estimated that the wages of between 400 and 500 employees fall below the poverty guideline. They also estimated that about 2/3 of the employees making poverty wages are women. Thus the University pays approximately one in every four to five of its hourly employees so poorly that they qualify for various forms of public assistance.
- During the last 25 years, workers in job categories such as Executive Secretary, Carpenter, and Housekeeping Supervisor have seen their real wages fall by as much as 20 percent. This situation is by no means unique to UTK. The real wages of many working people in the United States have declined since 1975, creating a growing gap between the economically well-off on the one hand and wage earners in the industrial and service sectors of the economy on the other.
- In contrast, after experiencing a drop in income in the middle 1980's, UT faculty salaries have largely returned to their levels of 25 years ago (though they certainly have not improved). While much could be done to strengthen faculty salaries at UTK, the University's labor policies are creating the impression among many workers that improvements in faculty income have been funded in part by the University's failure to improve workers' wages.
- Many workers have lost their benefits and have seen their wages decrease as a result of privatization. In the 1970's and 1980's UTK began to phase out some jobs and to contract with private companies to provide services which UT employees had provided. Privatization now represents an established labor policy at the University of Tennessee. It is a policy that has led to declining wages and disappearing benefits for many of the workers who provide essential services. Because the privatized workers are no longer legal employees of the University, the UTK administration can pretend that the overall income of its non-exempt employees is improving modestly when in fact the income of workers who continue to perform their work on campus has declined.
- While private contractors like Aramark, who now employ university food service workers, refuse to release information regarding their pay scale or benefits, relevant information is available regarding the wages and benefits paid by Aramark at the privatized food service facilities it operates on other university campuses in the southeast. At the Citadel in Charleston, SC, Aramark's entire hourly workforce receives poverty wages. The highest hourly rate paid to workers in the top classification, $8.00/hr, still falls below the federal poverty guideline for a family of four. In addition to its poverty wages, Aramark contributes nothing to worker medical insurance or retirement programs. If workers wish to join the company's medical insurance plan they must pay 100 percent of the monthly premium-an almost impossible burden, given the dismal monthly income Aramark's wage scale offers. There is no reason to think that Aramark workers at UTK are doing better than this.
- The policy of privatization at UTK has resulted in part from the consistent pressure of private corporations upon both the state government and the campus administration. The claim of these corporations has been that they can provide the same services more cheaply and efficiently than government institutions. Unfortunately, their success in doing so has been to the detriment of campus workers, whose falling wages and evaporating benefits have been the source of the money saved.
- Using an analysis of actual wages paid to individual non-exempt employees, the UT Department of Human Resources estimates that the actual cost of bringing the 816 non-exempt employees now making less than a living wage up to $9.50 per hour would be $3,145,058. They estimate that it would cost approximately $6,000,000 to implement a living wage in a way that continues to distinguish the eight currently existing grade levels that will need to be raised for all workers to receive a living wage.
Last Modified: 13 October 2006 EST