National Catholic Reporter

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Catholic university raises minimum wage to $15 per hour

  • Charles Dougherty
  • Karen Matthis
 | 

A Catholic university in Pittsburgh has raised the minimum wage for its employees to $15 an hour as part of a plan to increase wages for its lowest-paid workers, the university announced.

The wage increase, effective July 1, affects about 100 non-contract employees at Duquesne University, which has a total workforce of about 2,100, including about 1,600 full-time and about 500 part-time employees.

"This will only impact those who are already at the bottom of our pay scale. Lifting the minimum of course means lifting the bottom," Charles Dougherty, university president, told NCR. "Everybody got a raise this year. But nobody got the kind of raise that the people who were making minimum wage got."

The minimum wage rise will not apply to faculty, who are contract employees and aren't paid per hour, to students who work on campus, nor to the approximate 390 contract workers who run Duquesne's dining services and bookstore.

The action is part of a plan the university introduced in fiscal year 2011 to aggressively increase wages for workers such as clerical staff, parking attendants, maintenance staff, security and police officers.

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Both the federal minimum wage and the Pennsylvania minimum wage are $7.25 per hour.

The university minimum wage was $12.50 in fiscal year 2012. The next year wages increased to $13 per hour and then to $14 in fiscal year 2014. The wage increased to $15 per hour for the current fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

The increases were large compared with the 2 percent to 3.5 percent increases in the "general pool for raises for everybody on campus," Dougherty said.

He said the idea to increase wages came from the university cabinet, Duquesne's leadership group, which includes Dougherty and six vice presidents. The all-university representative budget committee supported the plan and the university board of directors approved it.

One employee who has benefitted from the wage increase is Karen Matthis, a full-time residence life employee. Matthis, who has worked at Duquesne for about six and a half years, spoke to NCR while awaiting a shop estimate on the cost to fix her car.

"Last year at this time, I would've panicked when the car was in the shop," said Matthis, whose five adult children live at home while they complete graduate studies and seek employment. "But this year, it [the wage increase] gave us some options."

In the short term, she planned to use the extra money to help buy books for two of her children, who enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh for engineering graduate school.

When Matthis started at Duquesne, she earned about $10 an hour. "I still thought that was a nice wage, because the benefits at Duquesne are marvelous," she said. "My children went to school there, that was covered as one of my benefits. That was a terrific benefit. And then, to know that they're paying us this well, on top of those kinds of benefits, is marvelous. It's a wonderful place to be."

A major influence on raising the minimum wage was the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spiritans, a Roman Catholic religious order that emphasizes "outreach to the poor and those who are in marginal situations," according to Dougherty. "So when we do our strategic planning, and think about what we are as a university and where we're heading, we always bear that in mind; that shapes our view of our pay scale."

The Spiritans founded Duquesne, their only U.S. university, in 1878, as Pittsburgh Catholic College. Two Spiritan priests serve on the cabinet: Fr. Sean Hogan, executive vice president for student life, and Fr. Raymond French, vice president for mission and identity. The Spiritan corporation that owns the university also approved the budgets that allowed for the wage increases.

Dougherty said, "We want to be sure that, first, we're being just to our least well-paid employees and their families. And second, and this is also a strongly Catholic notion that comes of course partly from the Spiritans ... this really helps encourage the development of a strong sense of community."

Duquesne was in the news in the last year following the death of an adjunct professor, Margaret Mary Vojtko. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other sources reported that Vojtko had taught French at Duquesne for 25 years when her contract expired in spring 2013. Vojtko, who was battling cancer, died Sept. 1 of complications from a heart attack.

Daniel Kovalik, a United Steelworkers union lawyer, wrote a Sept. 18 Post-Gazette op-ed piece highlighting Vojtko's poverty, lack of severance pay, adjuncts' general lack of benefits, and Duquesne's opposition to adjunct unionization. The university contested the op-ed, citing that it had repeatedly offered support to Vojtko, including a place to stay on campus.

[Mick Forgey is an NCR Bertelsen intern. His email address is mforgey@ncronline.org.]

This story appeared in the Aug 15-28, 2014 print issue under the headline: Catholic university raises minimum wage to $15 per hour .

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