Rudd announces raises to get lowest-paid workers to $13 by July 1; The Mephian

Written by Jane Roberts on 01/13/2020

The lowest-paid workers at the University of Memphis will get an 89-cent-an-hour raise on April 1 and an additional $1 on July 1, bringing them to $13 an hour within six months.

It is not the $15 workers have been pushing to get.

University of Memphis President David Rudd announced the news Monday morning in an email to faculty and staff.

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“The University of Memphis continues to make significant progress as a university community, across all domains, particularly in our efforts to create operational efficiencies. Accordingly, I am pleased to announce that as a result of our continued efforts we will be increasing the minimum wage for all of our regular hourly wage employees to $13.00/hour by July 1, 2020,” he wrote.

Since he became president in 2014, Rudd said he and the university’s leadership have worked to raise the pay of its lowest-paid workers.

“As I have mentioned on many occasions, we are doing so in a financially responsible and sustainable manner. We have an equally firm commitment to also keep the cost of education low for our students.”

University of Memphis president David Rudd (right), announced Monday the lowest-paid workers at the university will get two raises this year. (Daily Memphian file)
University of Memphis president David Rudd (right), announced Monday the lowest-paid workers at the university will get two raises this year. (Daily Memphian file)
But for some of the 335 full-time workers who clean the buildings and keep the grounds, the raises are short of the $15 Rudd has promised.

“We are not done with this issue, not one bit,” said Doris Brooks-Conley, a custodian on campus for 19 years. “You have people who have been here for over a decade or more.”

She says people getting hired after July 1 will make the same as those who have been cleaning or maintaining the campus for years.

“Meanwhile, you have top administrators enjoying $15,000 to $25,000 raises per person. Why can’t we have what we need?”

The workers are covered by the United Campus Workers - Local 3865. They do receive health benefits like other state workers, according to Jayanni Webster, West Tennessee organizer for United Campus Workers.

Workers say they have pressed Rudd to prioritize a living wage instead of just incremental raises. In 2019, UCW called for “No More Incremental Raises” and pressed for $15.

To make his point, Rudd’s email Monday included a chart of tuition increases among colleges and universities in the state. U of M is the only one where tuition has dropped. Seven of the eight show increases of at least 3%. Tuition at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville is up 4.6% or nearly $2,000 since 2014-2015.

University of Memphis President David Rudd included this graphic in an email to faculty and staff Monday morning.
University of Memphis President David Rudd included this graphic in an email to faculty and staff Monday morning.
In 2016, Tennessee legislators passed the FOCUS Act, which allowed colleges and universities formerly governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents to create their own governing boards and set policy, including tuition rates.

When it was setting tuition for the 2017-2018 year, the U of M board of trustees cut tuition 1.75%, saying it could not address the needs of the city’s workforce while pricing Memphians out with tuition hikes.

Rudd has repeatedly said that the university must have a “sustainable” financial model where raises don’t require significant tuition increases or create unfair wage restrictions for other employees.

But in early December, the board agreed to cut its out-state tuition 25% at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, hoping to attract talented law students from a broader region.

A month earlier, Jack Shannon, new president at Christian Brothers University, announced incremental raises to bring the lowest paid at CBU to $15 by June 2o21. CBU will also give raises to people in the next highest bracket to avoid wage compression. It is asking its vendors with staff at CBU to follow suit with $15 an hour.

CBU expects the raises will cost $160,000 over two years.

Jean Rimmer, former vice president of United Campus Workers - Local 3865 and U of M custodian for 12 years, says her group has been pushing for better pay since 2014.

“So, this is a long time coming. But if Christian Brothers can do it and not impact tuition, so can we. If the UT downtown, St. Jude and the county government can do it, so can we. We care about our students, we care about the university, but if the cleaners are always last, that means our jobs will remain underpaid. Where is $15?”

In 2018, the university bumped its lowest-paid workers from $10.10 an hour to $10.60. In 2019, the roughly 300 workers got another boost to $11.11 an hour.

Last summer, Rudd said he had plans to increase the pay to $15, but produced no paperwork to show how.

In early July, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris vetoed a $1 million grant to the U of M for swimming facilities, saying he was receiving pressure from several groups who said the university needed to do better by its low-paid workers.

Harris’ veto was overridden.

The living wage in Shelby County is $11.06 an hour for a single adult with no children and $22.09 an hour for an adult with one child, according to the living wage calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.