Students fight for a living wage for JCU employees

February 12th, 2014

Students are seeking to hold John Carroll University to its Jesuit values in regard to fair wages and treatment for all its employees. The recently initiated Jesuit Just Employment movement is led by seniors Devan Gisoni and Leo Orlando, both of whom were inspired by similar movements at other Jesuit universities.


The movement aims to instate a Jesuit Just Employment Policy at JCU that requires the University to pay its employees a living wage and ensure fair treatment. Twenty-one out of the 28 Jesuit universities in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities have just employment policies, and JCU is one of the seven that doesn’t.


Russell Lum, resident minister intern, said the goal of the initiative is “that direct employees and contract employees are making a Cleveland living wage, which means that they don’t have to be in poverty while they work full-time, because no one should.”


A living wage is defined as a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. Each city has its own living wage based on varying costs of living.


Gisoni sparked the movement at JCU, but the Jesuit Just Employment Project is rooted at Georgetown University, which enacted the first Jesuit Just Employment Policy in 2005. The Kalmanovitz Initiative at Georgetown convened a network of Jesuit universities to draft a set of principles and policies for the movement, which the JCU group is using as a model for its potential policy.


Last summer, Gisoni attended the Ignatian Solidarity Network leadership summit at JCU, where guest speaker Nick Wertsch, program coordinator at the Kalmanovitz Initiative, introduced her to the movement and inspired her to start the discussion at JCU. Wertsch also reached out to Lum, who came to JCU in August and is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University – a Jesuit university in Los Angeles.


Gisoni and Lum connected, and Gisoni brought the idea to Students for Social Justice, which recommended that she should start a worker’s rights committee through SSJ. After her petition was approved, a group convened to focus solely on the just employment policy.


The initiative aims to implement fair employment policies for all JCU employees, but focuses specifically on GCA Services Group, the University’s contracted cleaning company, and Aramark, JCU’s contracted food services company.


While a significant part of the policy focuses on fair wages for employees, Gisoni said improving treatment of employees is an equally important goal.


Gisoni spoke to some of the daytime GCA employees, who have regular interaction with students while cleaning residence halls and other campus buildings.


“Some of them said that when they were cleaning the dorms, [they were] not being acknowledged by the students. Everyone deserves to be acknowledged,” Gisoni said. GCA employees also told her that some students are blatantly disrespectful and often make rude comments while employees are cleaning bathrooms or hallways.


Orlando said he talked to some of the nighttime GCA staff, who said they enjoyed working for JCU and that students and faculty were friendly, but some expressed concerns about being understaffed.


“There are some people who are cleaning entire buildings by themselves,” said Orlando. “And cleaning an entire classroom by yourself times 60 is a ton of work. So that is an issue – doing a lot of work and then not being paid according to how much work you’re doing.”


Gisoni said she has been invited to make a proposal to the University Budget Committee to increase wages. She hopes the policy would increase wages each year in incremental amounts.


Gisoni and Orlando stressed the importance of just employment at JCU because of its Jesuit value of social justice.


“I’ve been told by so many people from John Carroll and had so many conversations about why it’s important everyone is treated fairly at the very least,” Orlando said. “I never would have thought that’s not happening behind the scenes.”


According to Gisoni, many people at the University have been receptive to the movement, but anything dealing with money is never an easy fix.


Lum said that even though a just employment policy seems like it should be an obvious move for the University, student voices are the only way to push the policy into action.


“The existing campuses that have full-fledged just employment policies like Georgetown or like Loyola New Orleans, it didn’t spring from their board of directors,” Lum said. “Their board of directors looked at it and approved it and fell in line with it because there was demand, because there was pressure.”


Right now, the group has less than 10 active members, and Lum said that in order to create a loud enough voice for the movement at JCU, they’re going to need some more students.


“I think it will probably be shown that the reality is more students are needed to speak with a loud enough voice to be heard by the administration and by the board of directors,” Lum said.


The group’s next meeting is on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 6:15 p.m. in room 48 of the Administration Building.