Eckerd College student group protests facilities workers' pay
ST. PETERSBURG - Chanting and carrying banners, roughly 50 Eckerd College students this afternoon protested the school's facilities workers' wages by marching across campus and hand-delivering a petition to college President Donald R. Eastman III. The petition was signed by 550 of the college's 1,800 students and calls for housekeepers and other facilities' workers to earn roughly $13.50 an hour, said Jon Kenney, president of the Coalition for Community Justice, the campus group that organized the protest. Those workers now earn less than that but more than the minimum wage of $7.29 an hour. After arriving at Eastman's office, the students had to wait for an audience with the college president as he was wrapping up a luncheon. They were careful not to disrupt the office as they did so, creating an aisle of space in the lobby after they sat down and snapping their fingers, rather than clapping, whenever they agreed with a colleague's quietly stated point.Eastman, too, was cordial when he finally emerged and patiently addressed their concerns and answered their questions. The group believes the 71 housekeepers and facilities workers should earn a so-called living wage, an amount reached when calculating what one needs for a minimum standard of living. In at least some communities, that wage is higher than minimum wage. Eastman told the group he admired its compassion but said he disagreed with its economic philosophy. He said employees' wages should be dictated by their performance and the marketplace, rather than "what they want to make." Eastman also said if the 71 facilities' workers were paid $14 an hour, that would have a ripple effect on campus, so other employees with more difficult jobs would be making less. He said he had other constituencies to think about - including teachers, the board of trustees, his administration, the students who didn't sign the petition and those students' parents. Eastman also told the group his administration recently OK'd a 3 percent increase for anyone making under $30,000 a year at the college, and that the school offers free classes to the facilities' workers. Still, he told the group, his administration would take a look at the petition and its demands.Reporter Stephen Thompson can be reached at (727) 451-2336.