Anyone that has had the pleasure of waiting tables would probably agree that, at times, it can be a mentally tiring and even dehumanizing experience.
Sure, the restaurant gossip is salacious and the crazy customers can be entertaining sometimes, but overall it tends to be a massive pain. This is the reason I sometimes dread going back to my summer job in Chattanooga; while I'm here at school I feel on top, like an active, important member of the community.
This is my safe haven, where I feel comfortable and confident, and no one can demean me or make me feel unworthy.
I wish I could say that UT is such a safe haven for everyone, including the people that work here.
For those of you who have followed the living wage campaign being promoted on campus, you know this is definitely not the case. The living wage campaign is a push by a coalition of several student organizations to increase the wages of UT's facility services workers and give them a safer, more comfortable work environment.
I was truly shocked when I heard about this campaign. I never would have guessed that my beloved UT, where we are constantly immersed in a culture of volunteerism and service, would treat employees so badly that a campaign like this would become necessary. Unfortunately, reports of harassment, verbal abuse and a general lack of consideration from university administration demonstrate the need for this movement.
Right now, the Facilities Services employees make $8.50 per hour, often doing difficult manual labor and working alone in empty buildings in the middle of the night. Aside from the fact that this is in itself a tough job, it also has a huge stigma attached to it.
Facilities Services workers are encouraged to stay out of sight of students when working and not to engage us in conversation. They are trained with a culture of isolation in mind, so they remain almost invisible to us as we go about our business on campus.
The goal of the living wage campaign, which is being promoted largely by the Progressive Student Alliance, is not only to raise the wages for Facilities Services employees, but also to battle this culture of isolation and classism on campus.
Kayla Frye, a sophomore at UT and an active member of PSA, said these people are essential to UT's campus life.
"Facilities Services is the backbone of this campus," Frye said. "To say that this abuse is not a student issue would be very near-sighted."
When I asked Frye what the next step for the campaign was, she said raising awareness in the community and getting the hourly wage up from $8.50 to $12.50 with benefits were the most direct goals.
Given that UT employs hundreds of Facilities Services personnel, this may seem like a lot of money. However, this increase would – if the administration would actually get on board – only account for 1percent of the UT systems total payroll.
Alternatively, if the cost of this increase were to be put entirely on students, it would average out to about an extra $60 every semester.
I guess what I'm having trouble understanding is the dark irony in this situation. Here we are at UT, a school sending kids to do service in Jamaica for alternative spring break, and we can't even pay the people who keep campus clean and beautiful a decent amount of money.
Obviously I can't speak for anyone else, but I have to imagine there are other students out there who wouldn't mind paying a little bit extra (or at least skimping on Jimmy Cheek's annual raises) to make these people's lives a whole lot better.
If you haven't looked into this campaign so far, definitely take the time to do so. This isn't just about hourly wages; it's about the fact that none of us are too good to wait a table or scrub a toilet, and no one should feel too scared of retribution to stand up for themselves in the workplace.
It's time to speak up as a student body and make it clear that we expect better for our fellow volunteers.
Katie Dean is a junior in political science and psychology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.