Duquesne University's wage raises renew my faith

Adam DeRose |

"This is what religion looks like."

It's a slogan that dons every page of IWJ's website (right up there on the top right corner), and it's the first thing I thought of when I heard the news. Yesterday, I learned that Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburg, approved a university-wide minimum wage raise to $16 an hour for employees including maintenance workers, office staffers and groundskeepers.

The university is making a decision based on moral convictions to pay all workers a wage off which one can live with dignity and afford the basic needs for oneself and family. At a time when more and more businesses and institutions are making cuts when it comes to payroll and benefits, it's news that makes me feel proud as a Catholic, a union staffer at IWJ and an unapologetic worker advocate. It's that kind of leadership I wish more religious institutions would embrace; I have faith that with the right kind of organizing rooted in our faith traditions, they will.

The Duquesne wage raises will go into effect on July 1, and impact 168 employees, according to the university. I'd be remiss to mention that the scheduled raised will lift the wage floor to $16 an hour from $15, already double the Pennsylvania and federal minimum wage of $7.25. While underpaid workers at some of America's most profitable companies continue to push their employers to do right by them, Duquesne University administration is taking the lead.

Now more than ever religious institutions must be advocates for workers and speak up for living wages, dignity at work and ensure that life is honored when it comes to health and safety standards in the workplace. Religious institutions need to do this in practice (like Duquesne), but also through justice programming and in the pulpit. Churches and religious institutions need to echo and amplify the calls of America's working families: it's time for a living wage, now.

There is no greater issue facing our families and communities today than the rampant economic inequality and the lack of access to good jobs. Today Duquesne University deserves some recognition, tomorrow maybe the entire Catholic Church, someday maybe even giant corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s.