After more than a week without food, the twenty-plus members ofGeorgetown’s Living Wage Coalition started to have theirdoubts.
The students, who began a hunger strike on March 15th demanding that the university increase wages for its 450 contract custodians, food service employees, and security guards, had seen little sign of real compromise on the part of the administration. Two students had already been taken to the hospital, and others were suffering from dizziness, nausea, and blurred vision.
But the students persisted, and on Holy Thursday, America’s oldestCatholic university officially agreed pay its contract workers aliving wage, increasing compensation from a minimum of $11.33 an hour to $13 by July and to $14 by July 2007.
Upon hearing the news, the ecstatic students shouted “We won! We won!” with campus workers and celebrated with their first meal in nine days: fresh strawberries. “We were stunned,” protester Liam Stack told the Washington Post. “This is a real victory.”
According to Wider Opportunities for Women, whose reportbolstered the campaign’s arguments, the cost of living in Washington DC is one of the highest in the country. For workers such as Maria Rivas–a 60-year-old custodial employee who holds a second job and still earns only $600 a month–the wage increase will help her meet rent, pay for groceries, and purchase medication for her 83-year-old father.
The hunger strike was the final result of a three-year push by theLiving Wage Coalition to improve conditions for contract workers.Students had grown increasingly frustrated by the university’sunwillingness to address the issue–something they saw as especially hypocritical given the school’s purported ethos of compassion and sacrifice.
The students, who said they were willing to continue the strikethrough the weekend, when the campus would be officially closed, will head home for an especially sweet Easter break.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.