What a sociology class can do: help develop a minimum wage initiative for San Jose

I’m always intrigued by sociology class projects that go beyond the classroom. Here is an example from San Jose of a class project that will be on the ballot this November:

The proposed San Jose measure would raise the hourly minimum wage in the city from the current $8 state requirement to $10 with yearly inflation adjustments. It is modeled on San Francisco’s 2003 minimum wage law, which includes annual inflation adjustments that raised the floor this year on that city’s pay rate 32 cents to $10.24 an hour.

The idea behind the San Jose ballot measure originated among students in a San Jose State sociology class taught by professor Scott Myers-Lipton.

In late March, the students, together with labor leaders and community organizers, submitted 36,225 signatures to the registrar’s office. Proponents needed at least 19,161 valid signatures of registered city voters to qualify for the November ballot, and at least 19,518 were found to be sufficient.

“The students and I are thrilled that it qualified and that we received the support of the community at large, from labor, faith and community based organizations in this effort,” Myers-Lipton said Tuesday.

I can imagine some of the public conversation about this: college students in a sociology class (already considered a liberal discipline) team up with local activists to introduce this bill? At the same time, might this be considered good experiential learning as students are learning about local politics and how they can get involved?

Here is some more information on how the class got involved:

As part of Myers-Lipton’s Sociology 164 course on Social Action, students studied President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proposal for an Economic Bill of Rights. As student activist Elisha St. Laurent explains, “The economic bill of rights guarantees everyone a job, a living wage, a decent home, medical care, economic protection during sicknesses or old age or unemployment.” The minimum wage campaign is a practical way of making some of these guarantees more attainable for San Jose residents. “We’re trying to link the economic bill of rights to inequality in the San Jose area,” she says.

As the mother of a five-year-old boy and someone who is working to pay for college, St. Laurent has experienced the realities of the low-wage economy directly. “Especially as a single mother,” she says, “you know I’m continually struggling. I’m always working minimum wage. Right now I make $9.25, so it would be a 75-cent increase for me. But an extra $100 or $200 in my check would make a difference. It’s making sure that I have gas in my car so that I can take my son to school, and then still being able to pay my bills.”…

As the students moved forward with the idea, they found significant partners such as Working Partnerships USA, a think tank for public policy that affects working class families, the NAACP and the local faith-based group Sacred Heart Community Service.

Myers-Lipton explains, “Early on, there was a discussion that occurs in any campaign asking, ‘Is this winnable? Is it worth putting in all the effort.’ At that point [Sacred Heart Executive Director] Poncho [Guevara] said, ‘You know, win or lose, we need to put forward a vision of what we stand for. We need to be putting our vision forward rather than  always being on the defensive. So even if we lose, we’re going to win in the long run.'”

It sounds like these students are taking their readings and trying to put some of the ideas into practice. It would be interesting to hear how much they have learned about sociology or a sociological perspective throughout this process.

2 thoughts on “What a sociology class can do: help develop a minimum wage initiative for San Jose

  1. Pingback: What a sociology class can do: help develop a minimum wage initiative « Eureka Fair Wage Initiative

  2. Pingback: Sociology class project in San Jose leads to succesful vote in favor of raising the minimum wage | Legally Sociable

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s