Subcontracting of Housekeeping with NMR Increases Inequality at Earlham

Photo by Nathan Rivas
“The reality of being a part of a capitalist society”

In 2020, while the college struggled with a budget deficit, Earlham college subcontracted housekeeping and facilities to National Management Resources (NMR) which, according to administrators, saved Earlham roughly half a million dollars. Economic Professor Raja Krishnan says that there is more to any economic analysis than decreasing cost. Raja said that “I don’t think the question is always saving cost…you have to ask the question, “what are you giving up?” One housekeeper reported that they were assigned multiple buildings in a shift, which they described as “a 12 hour workday in an 8 hour shift.” The Word spoke to many NMR employees about their working conditions, but everyone the Word interviewed was cautious to give anonymous comments because they were afraid of being punshied by NMR. Additional to working conditions, Indeed lists that the average hourly wage for an NMR housekeeper is $12.80 an hour. According to MIT, that is $2.98 below the living wage of $15.78 for a person without children living in Indiana and $19.05 below the living wage of $31.85 for a person with one child. President Houtman said that the alternative to NMR was either terminating five faculty, or increasing tuition, something which the Earlham administration is loathe to do. President Houtman told the Word that “our priority was to protect the student learning experience,” and that it would go against the Principles and Practices to say “we’re not accepting poor students anymore…” While many in the Earlham community agree that they want the college to be accessible to all regardless of income level, some labor advocates argue that there is another source of possible income: administrators’ salaries. According to a tax form that Earlham submitted to the IRS in 2020, published by ProPublica, executive compensation was $1,895,888 (nearly two million dollars), which is enough to pay a living wage for 57 housekeepers living alone in Indiana for a year, and over three times the cost an administrator reports is saved by subcontracting with NMR. When asked if administrators would consider cutting their salaries, President Houtman said that she was paid the least of any president in the Great Lakes Colleges, and that when it comes to high salaries, “that’s the reality of being a part of a capitalist society.” While many have argued that income inequality is an essential function of capitalism, it is also true that across the world, rising cost of living, unsustainable extraction of natural resources, and widespread rollbacks of social services are causing a growing number of people to rescind their agreement to the social contract. According to the World Inequality Lab, the global capitalist system has allowed for 10% of the global population to amass 76% of the wealth. It’s up to the Earlham community to decide how it wants to be a part of that change.

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