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Workers fight for $15 ahead of U of M budget approval

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Some University of Memphis workers and members of the United Campus Workers union gathered on the UofM campus Thursday to make a statement ahead of the university’s budget meeting for the new fiscal year.

Their statement: They want $15 per hour.

“The wages just suck,” said Barbara Jones, who is going on her 19th year of being a custodian on the U of M campus. “We do hard work to take care of the students and the customers that come through the doors. We deserve the $15 an hour.”

In January, President M. David Rudd said he supported raising the campus minimum wage to $15 per hour in a “financially responsible, sustainable way.” The Faculty Senate and Staff Senate passed resolutions in 2018 in support of increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The U of M’s current minimum wage is $10.60, which is a 50 cent increase from what it was in 2017. The workers and people in the union said the small incremental increases don’t help, and they want a full $15 per hour this year.

Margaret Cook, vice president of the Memphis chapter of UCW, said she wants to see actions rather than a vocal support of the minimum wage increase.

“If they continue with incremental raises, we won’t see 15 until 2026, and we feel like that’s too long,” Cook said. “We feel like it can be done now.”

An estimated 100 people attended the event on campus at the corner of Walker Avenue and Patterson Street, and Cook said she thinks that public display will make U of M administration listen to the group’s concerns.

“We know that public pressure inspires people to act,” Cook said.

UCW said about 335 employees at the U of M make less than $15 per hour. The U of M budget should be finalized by July.

Jones said getting that raise she wants would change her lifestyle for the better, and she could better take care of her family’s daily needs.

“I could buy a house, a new car, take care of the family, too,” Jones said “Kids could go to daycare.”

Other local institutions including the City of Memphis, Shelby County and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have committed to raising their minimum wages to similar levels in the past year.

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