warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

An Open Letter To Max Nikias

Matthew Tinoco |
February 1, 2015 | 8:40 p.m. PST

Senior Reporter

Dear President Nikias: 

By now I’m sure you’re well aware of a video circulating throughout USC’s social media that shows you being confronted by an employee of the university, imploring you to see the inescapability of a life based on $11 an hour.

To be honest, I can understand why you acted the way you did in the video.

You were confronted, noticed you had cameras on you, and felt ambushed. You were—that’s just good organizing. And I understand how in that moment you might have known that you couldn’t say anything to Abigail Lopez because anything you said would be scrutinized very heavily. Possibly by students, likely by faculty—but certainly by the University’s Board of Trustees.

Perhaps you even feared saying almost anything at all would create a whirlwind of chaos on the University’s Board of Trustees, sabotage the school’s negotiations with Local 11, leaving you smack dab in the middle of it.

I understand that moment.

But I ask you now, as an undergraduate student enrolled at USC, to seriously consider what Abigail Lopez’s plea means, and how you, as chief of the largest private employer in Southern California, can dramatically improve the lives of thousands of Los Angeles residents very easily.

Imagine for a second, what your life would be like you if didn’t have more than a million dollars and a university to back you up, and instead made $19,200 each year.

I mean it. I implore you to imagine what life is like when you are a single parent with two children, two jobs, and a $1,600-monthly budget.

Think about the logistics; getting from job to job, while making sure your children are where they need to be and properly cared for. Or think about the challenge of making sure everyone is fed, when rent alone devours more than half your paycheck. Not to forget the electricity, gasoline, and—if there’s anything left—a birthday gift for your daughter.

I understand if you can’t. For those of us privileged enough to have been born to circumstances that enable a life not terrorized by the fear of eviction, it’s impossible to reallyunderstand what it’s like to get up at 3:30 a.m. to board a bus to get to work at 5, enlisting your mother to care for your kids until school starts at 7:30. It’s impossible for us to imagine getting home at night, unable to even say goodnight to our children because they are already fast-asleep, not having seen us once during their waking hours.

It’s impossible for us, but it’s reality for millions of working people across the country every single day.

And it’s a reality for thousands of people right here, employed by the University of Southern California.

Right now the University is locked in negotiations with Unite Here Local 11 Service Union. Their demand for a $15-an-hour working wage has been deemed untenable by the University. You may think that paying the workers who compose the foundation of our university’s functionality as little as possible is just a part of running a large institution.

But I think if you took a stand in favor of paying your employees a living wage, you would find overwhelming amount of support for your decision among students, staff, faculty, alumni, and even some Trustees.

As a student, and a member of the Trojan Family, I ask you simply to take a stand with the workers who keep our university running.

I ask you to publicly declare your support of a living wage for the campus workers who maintain our beautiful campus, and feed our students for a living; a wage they and their families deserve.

We pride ourselves on being a university of ‘innovation’ and ‘progress.’ Why then, are we so intent on being one with archaic values that permit treating those who make our institution possible so poorly?

If USC wants to be No. 1, why don’t we make the choice to become the first university in the country to pay its workers a living wage?

I, and so many others, would be much more proud to be affiliated with a University that dignifies itself on being the only institution in the entire country to pay its workers a living wage, rather than one that boasts about having the most collegiate-gothic buildings.

This letter was originally published on DearPresidentNikias.tumblr.com. It also appears in the February 2nd edition of the Daily Trojan.

Reach Senior Reporter Matthew Tinoco here, and follow him on Twitter here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.