November 27, 2007

Inflation data does not reflect reality

As a clerical worker, I’d like to thank the University of Chicago students and community members for all of their support in our ongoing contract negotiations with the University. There has been much recent discussion about our contract in the Maroon, but important voices have been absent. I am writing to include the voice of a worker in this public discussion of how much workers should be paid.

In his opinion piece (“Workers’ Claims Based on Fuzzy Math,” 11/20/2007), Andrew Fischer Lees uses the average inflation rate of the last 12 months to argue that “cost of living has been rising at a rate much lower than four percent,” the amount that we have demanded from the University.

It is true that the average annual rate of inflation of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the last year is 2.53 percent. That number hides a lot. It hides the fact that inflation has been trending upward over the last year—the average over the last 6 months has been 3.51 percent. It hides that Business Week says, “The consumer price index [...] is expected to increase at a 4-percent to 5-percent clip in the coming months.”

Most importantly, it hides the lives of workers at the U of C. While the CPI has risen at a moderate rate in recent years, the University has raised our health care premiums by 147 percent since 2003. The rising property taxes and rising rents have pushed most workers out of the neighborhoods surrounding the University. Many of us now commute from the south suburbs and Gary, so the inflation rate for gasoline, now at 26.1 percent, affects us greatly. These figures are not reflected in Lees’s figure of 2.53 percent, but they are reflected in our lives.

I’m glad that students and student groups have shown so much support for workers over the last few months. But please talk to us before publishing claims about how much money is necessary to continue providing for our families.

Joe Sexauer

Member of Local 743