Tulane minimum wage change signals progress

Rohan Goswami, Associate News Editor

Tulane University moved to increase employee minimum wage to $15 an hour from $10.28 by Oct. 1, as part of a broader effort to “honor the critical and essential role our workforce plays in creating, maintaining, and growing our mission as one of the country’s leading institutions of higher education and research.”

President Mike Fitts announced the change in an email to the Tulane community on Friday, Aug. 20. The move brings Tulane University into alignment with many of its peer institutions in the Association of American Universities, some of which have had such policies dating back to 2015.

In his message to the Tulane community, Fitts also announced that Tulane would bring student wages up from a minimum of $7.25 to a minimum of $10, also effective Oct. 1. 

Fitts stressed the work that Tulane employees did “on the ground” as a factor in the administration’s decision to increase the minimum wage. Referring to these employees as “heroes,” Fitts said that he was “tremendously impressed by how Tulane staff and faculty came through [the 2020-2021] school year. We felt that Tulane has to be a place where people feel supported, that it’s an institution that rewards commitment [to the University].”

The increase in minimum wage may also necessitate an increase for supervisory workers, per Fitts’ announcement. Failure to increase those wages would result in a phenomenon termed pay compression, where employees down the line receive a wage close or equal to the wage of their supervisors or longer tenured employees. In a page published to the Human Resources website, the university wrote that “adjustments will be considered for jobs within the same classifications, as well as immediate levels above, to relieve pay compression.”

Speaking on this matter, Fitts said that Tulane considered this raise both part of a broader mission to attract the best talent possible to Tulane and as part of an effort to further benefit the city of New Orleans. “We feel that our fate is deeply linked to the success of New Orleans,” Fitts said.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has also signalled her support for a $15 minimum wage across the city. Fitts indicated that he had been in conversations with Cantrell on this matter and said that she was a strong supporter of Tulane’s efforts.

The change in university policy does not directly impact workers employed by third-party contractors, however, like Sodexo or Allied Security. The announcement by Fitts stated that “in evaluating the renewal of contracts with service providers or the selection of new service providers, the university will give special consideration to those that pay a similar minimum wage to our own or have a documented plan within a reasonable timeframe.”

According to Fitts, meeting the minimum wage implemented by the university would be a criterion in renewing contracts with existing university vendors, as well as contracting with new ones. 

Sodexo declined to comment on the change. Unlike those directly employed by Tulane, contract workers do not have access to tuition waivers or Tulane employee benefits. Fitts emphasized that Sodexo has paid above the federal minimum for some time, and that Tulane tuition waivers for full time, direct Tulane employees ranked as some of the most generous in the country. Fitts said that he was “not aware” of any proposals to introduce tuition waivers to contracted employees at this time.