After a year of Fight for $15 protests, Washington University’s chancellor announced on Tuesday that he will raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 for regular employees and basic service contractors by July 1, 2021.
The decision affects about 1,200 regular and contracted workers, according to the Service Employees International Union Local 1.
“Housekeepers, graduate workers and campus workers at Wash U came together across racial lines and different backgrounds to fight for the $15 we need to support our families and improve our neighborhoods,” said Local 1 Wash U housekeeper Gary Johnson. “We showed our region that a $15 wage isn’t just possible, it’s essential in making St. Louis a better place for all working families.”
Chancellor Andrew Martin made the announcement on the university’s website and explained that the transition will start on July 1 with $12.65 an hour for regular employees and $12.25 an hour for basic service contractors. Then on July 1, 2020, the rate will rise to $13.80 an hour for both regular employees and basic service contractors.
“I have made this decision after an inclusive, thoughtful and thorough process that involved dialogue with students, university employees, community activists, and St. Louis religious and social justice leaders, as well as a full assessment of the financial and operational implications,” Martin stated.
Since joining the university in January, Martin said he has gathered input from important stakeholders, including the university’s Board of Trustees.
“I have recommended that we take this step because it is the right thing to do,” Martin stated. “The university’s current minimum wage is well above the regional average, as well as federal and state mandates. Nonetheless, we always are open to considering ways in which we can further support our employees. I thank those who have brought this issue to our attention.”
The Fight for $15 movement at Washington University largely includes graduate student workers, food service staff and housekeepers. The average wage for housekeepers is $12.75, according to a spokesman for the movement, but other workers around campus make as little as $9 to $10 an hour.
On April 15, seven students and a member of the clergy were arrested when they occupied Martin’s office.
Throughout the spring, members of the movement — largely students — had been sleeping on the campus Quad in tents, and there were 10 to 20 tents any given night.
The movement will continue to fight for $15, a union voice and child care, they said.
St. Louis’ third-largest employer enacting a $15 wage for a large portion of its workforce is significant, advocates said. In May, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones also announced plans to raise employee pay in her office to $15 an hour.
More than 2,100 janitors across the city and county will be kicking off their fight for a $15 wage in a strong new contract later this year, according to SIUE. Movement leaders emphasized that these actions align with Forward Through Ferguson’s recommendation to implement a $15 wage to make the St. Louis region more equitable across racial lines.
“The increase to $15 is a really important victory for workers at Wash U,” said Washington University Graduate Workers Union member Grace Ward. “As a member of WUGWU, I’m proud of the coalition that came together in this fight, and I’m looking forward to continuing to organize with housekeepers, service workers, undergrads, faculty, and activists in the wider St. Louis community. Direct action works, and we’re going to keep it up.”
Rebecca Rivas is a reporter with the St. Louis American, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.