VALDOSTA -- Supporters of Valdosta State University's Living Wage Campaign, chanting "no justice, no peace," converged at the fountain in front of Odum Library Thursday night, refusing to give up their fight for a "decent" hourly wage.
The more than 100 members of the university's student body, faculty, and staff presented a united front, about three times stronger than a month ago and growing in number each week.
"As long as we are united, we're OK," said David Klier, Living Wage Campaign co-organizer and student. "If they divide us, it's over."
Klier further encouraged the crowd, saying university officials need to give their custodians, food service workers, grounds keepers, and other underpaid staff workers more respect and better wages.
"VSU is one of the biggest employers in Valdosta," Klier continued. "If we change them, we can change the community."
Klier said he would like to see university president Hugh C. Bailey spend one day working in one of these positions.
"Maybe then we would be treated with respect," Klier said.
Rally participants held up signs, displaying statements like "Respect Workers Rights," "Justice for VSU Workers," and "An Injury to One is an Injury to All."
Some present expressed suspicions about what they believed to be money missing from the school's budget, money that should have been used to provide them a decent hourly wage.
Their suspicions were based on a letter dated Nov. 28, 1988, from Vice Chancellor for Fiscal Affairs with the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia Jacob Wamsley that stated in part: "From our perspective, we are providing salary dollars to Valdosta State ... on the same basis that they are being supplied to all other units of the University System of Georgia."
Based on Wamsley's statement, Living Wage Campaign supporters believe there should be little discrepancy between what VSU's workers are paid and what other system units pay their workers. However, such is not the case.
According to a Council on Staff Affairs Salary Survey study report on May 1997, which factored in the cost of living, a custodian at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College earns $11,042.45 a year, while a custodian at VSU earns $9,797.
The discrepancy is across the board for all low-skilled positions.
"There is something wrong with a society that works people 40 hours a week and then forces them to stand in line for welfare and food stamps," said Leigh Touchton, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president and faculty supporter of the campaign.
Recently, university officials decided not to renew Touchton's annual employment contract for reasons unknown at this time. Louis H. Levy, acting vice president for Academic Affairs, said positions like Touchton's are based on the needs of the university at the time the contract is offered. Based on his statements, Touchton and others assumed her position was being done away with. That may or may not be the case.
"The two laboratory positions in my department (the Biology Department) are not being cut, and I have seniority if the two are molded into one," Touchton said.
She and members of the Living Wage Campaign and the community believe her commitment to the campaign and political speech and action made her an easy target.
"I've been holding back," she said. "Now I have nothing to lose. I have so many stories to tell."
Touchton said she recalled the huge media event surrounding the new Biology/Chemistry Building when "those who worked so hard to make the building beautiful were told to leave and not be seen on camera or by any members of the media," she said.
"They should have been thanked for their hard work," Touchton continued. "Not hidden in shame."
Since the Touchton controversy, members of the NAACP and The People's Tribunal have joined the Living Wage Campaign's fight.
"I am so proud of the leadership given to this campaign," said the Rev. Floyd Rose, president of the Tribunal. "Leigh has given so much so you can gain a little. You cannot let h
Ben Speight, student and campaign co-organizer, said he and Klier have sent several letters to Bailey and Vice President for Business and Finance James Brignati on several occasions requesting negotiations.
"To this date, they have not responded to any of our requests to sit down and talk," Speight said. "I think, despite their silence, they are concerned about this movement and aware of activities."
VSU officials were unable to be reached Friday for additional comment. Previously, Bailey responded to the campaign movement, stating, "'I would like to pay everyone more money. I know how hard it is to get by these days."
In terms of overall package, including salary and benefits, Bailey added he believes VSU's to be "tremendous."
"If you take the lowest paid person and include his fringe benefits, then you will find that we are investing over $10 an hour in him or her," Bailey said. "Proportionately, we are putting more money into retirement for a lower paid individual than for many of the highest paid ones."
VSU workers, however, refuse to accept Bailey's version. Many of them bring home less than $300 every two weeks.
"They've made a move, and we've got some counter-moves going on," said Henry Calhoun, a grounds keeper making $6.72 an hour after five years of service. "Collectively, we can conquer this monster."
For information, please read previous stories on this subject written in the Oct. 14, Nov. 14, and Nov. 15 issues of The Valdosta Daily Times or call 219-7652.
To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.
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