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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: The pay gap between UNC System employees needs change

UNC Maintenance
UNC's building maintenance is under a severe backlog. Josh Trull is one of only seven buildings facilities employees working to keep the campus up to code.

Have you ever stopped to notice how much work goes into maintaining the campus we live and learn on? Who swipes you into the dining hall, who keeps our residence halls clean, who prepares our meals, who responds to maintenance requests, who manages campus grounds – the list goes on.

Our campus is home to a vast ecosystem of labor that we, as students, depend on. Its absence would be a detriment – if not bring a complete halt – to our lives. Despite this, many of the housekeeping, groundskeeping and maintenance staff that make up UNC’s campus are severely underpaid, especially relative to University administration.

While it may seem obvious that salaries of on-campus employees don't match those of University leaders, the magnitude of this salary difference is staggering. This is especially true when we consider the impact of University employees on our day-to-day lives. 

Most students have tangible ways that housekeeping, food service and maintenance staff impact their living and learning experiences. We cannot go a day without interacting with or being helped by these members of our community. On the other hand, the influence of University leaders is far less tangible and abstract in the minds of students.

The median salary for housekeepers in the UNC System is $31,200, groundskeepers see a median salary of $33,311.50 and building maintenance a median of $46,985. Assuming 40-hour work weeks every week of the year, this creates hourly wages of $15, $16.02 and $22.59, respectively.

Are these wages sustainable? Data from MIT on livable wages per household in North Carolina suggests not. The livable wage for a single adult with no children in NC is $15/hour. This is hardly a realistic expectation – employees have partners, children and sometimes other family members to support. The minimum wage for a dual-income household with two children? $20.90/hour.

It’s important to keep in mind that the living wage is a bare minimum. It accounts for an earner’s most basic needs without regard to things like savings or wealth accumulation.

This analysis excludes dining hall staff, which are employed by Aramark. Self-reported data from job search websites suggests these employees make only $11.72/hour, far less than those employed directly by the UNC System.

Just across the quad, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz makes $620,000 a year, which equals approximately $298/hour, assuming a year-round 40-hour workweek. This is nearly 20 times the earnings of UNC housekeepers and groundskeepers.

It’s not just Kevin G. Those seated Office of the Chancellor make salaries that far surmount other hardworking employees on the same camps:

  • Former Provost Bob Blouin made $493,182. 
  • Deans make a median salary of approximately $300,000, with the Dean of Kenan-Flagler Business School as the highest earner at $514,326.50.
  • Vice-Chancellors have a median salary of approximately $330,000.
  • Assistant Vice-Chancellors earn a median of $202,500.

All of this is to say that UNC needs to bridge the gap between its employees, regardless of what sector of campus they work in.

In the U.S., the gap between the highest earners and the lowest earners in our economy is growing and UNC is merely a microcosm for this trend. Our housekeepers, groundskeepers, maintenance staff and dining hall staff work long hours of physically demanding work. They have been continuously exposed to a large student body throughout the pandemic. 

There is no reason that on-campus staff should barely see a living wage while those in the administration – who are foreign and work widely unknown to students – take home nearly 20 times their earnings.

The bare minimum is not enough, especially for those who go above and beyond every day for us students.


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