People from the Fayetteville community and around Arkansas gathered at the Fayetteville Historic Square today to call on the UofA to raise the minimum wage for both graduate students and staff to better reflect the cost of living.
Officials from the Northwest Arkansas chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest trade union of public employees in the U.S., organized the UofA Living Wage Campaign rally, said Mike Pierce, vice president of the local chapter of AFSCME.
During the rally, members of the AFSCME gathered signatures for a petition to present to Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, UA System President Donald Bobbitt and the system’s Board of Trustees.
Members of the local chapter of AFSCME organized the rally to inform people in Fayetteville that many members of the UA community are struggling to afford the basic necessities because of wages, Pierce said.
“A paycheck should be able to provide for a family and not make a person have to also rely on SNAP or other public benefits,” Pierce said.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance, such as money to buy food from grocery stores, to low-income people and families, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service website.
“If the Board of Trustees can find millions of dollars to pay a person not coaching at the university, then they can find the money to pay these people a living wage,” Pierce said.
A living wage for a two-income, two-child family in Arkansas is $14.12 per hour, and a living wage for a single parent raising one child is $21.71 per hour, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator.
Over half of the UA Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry clients are faculty and staff members, and 47 percent of graduate students at the UofA have reported being food insecure, which the USDA defines as the the lack of consistent access to enough food for a healthy life, according to the UofA Living Wage Campaign fact sheet.
“A stipend is supposed to help graduate assistants pay for things like housing and food, but I know so many graduate students, myself included, that have had to take out loans just to pay for these things,” said Arley Ward, the speaker for the UA Graduate Student Congress.
Approximately 97 percent of all graduate assistants at the UofA make less than what a single adult needs to maintain adequate food and housing, according to the UofA Living Wage Campaign fact sheet.
UA staff member Alison Williams, attended the rally because she struggled financially when she started working at the UofA, she said.
“When I first moved here, it was hard to make ends meet. Thirteen years later I am here to support everyone on campus,” Williams said.
The rally was organized today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty years ago, King attended the AFSCME public workers strike in Memphis where he was assassinated, Pierce said.