COPY for living wage article

The university used a living wage calculator to figure out what wage was appropriate for workers to afford basic necessities. 

JMU embraced the concept of a living wage for its full-time employees who were making less than $24,960 per year at the start of this month.

The university has 3,500 full-time employees, and as a result of the new regulation, 109 will now make $12 an hour, which is now the starting pay rate at JMU. Prior to this adjustment, all of these 109 employees had varying wages averaging about $11.31 an hour.

A living wage differs from the minimum wage in that employees making a living wage are making the amount of money per hour necessary to cover the expenses of an individual’s rent, transportation, health care, food, and utilities said university spokesman Bill Wyatt. However, a minimum wage is the lowest wage an employer can legally pay employees. The calculated living wage for Rockingham County and the city of Harrisonburg is $11.38, so Charles King, JMU’s Senior Vice President of Administration and Finance, and his colleagues decided to round up the wage to $12. 

“If someone were to work 40 hours a week at minimum wage, then it’s going to be really hard for them to be able to pay their rent, to afford health care, to buy the food they need to survive,” Wyatt said. 

This living wage standard was calculated by information published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Wyatt said. This living wage calculator reports the wages per hour that are needed to afford the basic necessities to survive in every region of the U.S. 

King said Virginia approved some salary increases for faculty and classified employees, so JMU incorporated the increased pay into its budget. Although the state approves, it only pays for 48% of this compensation while the university must pay the remaining 52%. Raising the living wage to $12 an hour will cost $75,000 according to Wyatt.

King said the process of adopting a living wage started back in October — the same time JMU started to look at the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Once the General Assembly was adjourned in February, serious planning for the budget began.

“There was a lot of research involved,” Wyatt said. “We had to build that into our budget. So it’s not something that just happens overnight.”

With King’s team at work, Rick Larson, assistant vice president of Human Resources Training and Performance at JMU, had the role of researching the living wage rate and ensuring all calculations that got sent over to payroll were correct. Larson said adjusting the living wage according to the year and the area is also important. 

“Every year or some regular interval, the living wage rates get adjusted, and they always go up, they never go down,” Larson said. “It’s incumbent upon us to look at those. We did have some employees at the older living wage rate who had to be adjusted up.”

King said JMU has monitored the living wage for a “number of years,” so this isn’t the first time they’ve made adjustments to employee wages. 

“We saw that where we were at compared to where they said we should be,” King said. “We were slightly below that, so we took the chance to adjust that and take it to 12 dollars an hour. Quite frankly, it was a good budget year based on the extra income we received from the general assembly, so we had some extra dollars so we could take care of this issue.” 

Wyatt said JMU adapting a living wage for these employees who earn a lower income is “the right thing to do.”

“Our employees give so much time, and they take so much pride in the services that they provide to our students, faculty and staff that it’s important for the university to invest in them and invest in our community in that way,” Wyatt said. 

Contact Carley Welch at welchcw@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.