Living Wage 101: Non Wage Benefits

Calculating a living wage | Non-wage benefits | Examples of living wage policies

» Introduction
» What Non-Wage benefits should campus workers be receiving?
» Testimonials of the importance of non-wage benefits to the success of a living wage campaign
» Why should workers have a right to non-wage benefits?
» What are and are not workers’ rights under US labor law?
» Non-wage benefits as international human rights
» International Labor Organization Instruments that address non-wage benefits
» Card Check Neutrality: One of the most fair and democratic procedures to organize workers


Power in society is intensely concentrated in the hands of a few. Real social change requires its redistribution, and the living wage movement is about building worker power. Without crucial non-wage benefits in place, even a successful living wage policy or ordinance is not sustainable. Students and activists come and go. Workers need to have the voice and power to advocate in their workplaces.

Non-wage benefits are inseparable from the living wage. Together with the wage they secure a just working environment and, the vital resources that both workers and their families need to sustain a basic and decent standard of living. Non-wage benefits range from safe and fair working conditions to health care coverage and paid vacation time and the right to organize. Non-wage benefits are not a privilege, but rather are a right to which workers are entitled.

In any living wage campaign, non-wage benefits MUST be integrated into the demands for increased wages. As is clear in some of the student organizer testimonials that follow, when non-wage benefits are not emphasized as heavily as the demand for a wage increase, non-wage benefits will be the hardest demands to reach an agreement on with your school’s administration. Since non-wage benefits are such a critical part of family and personal security, the importance of the demands non-wage benefits must be communicated “loud and clear” to the administration. Here are a few resources that can help you incorporate non-wage benefits into your living wage campaigns.

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What Non-Wage benefits should campus workers be receiving?

Here is a listing of non-wage benefits that campus living wage campaigns have fought for and won as well as others that should already be established working standards and benefits:

• Wage/benefits parity among all workers doing the same jobs
• Medical and dental benefits
• Paid sick leave
• Right to organize and collective bargaining
• Pension Plans
• Grievance procedures (ideally fulfilled by a union)
• Access to all campus resources (i.e. Buses, library, exercise facilities, etc.)
• Educational benefits (discounts on tuition, tuition for children, etc.)
• Full time work (instead of only offering part-time work to avoid providing benefits)
• Maternity and Paternity Leave
• Child care assistance
• Safe & healthy working conditions
• Paid vacation time

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Meeting workers where they are: testimonials of the importance of non-wage benefits to the success of a living wage campaign

Coming soon!

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Why should workers have a right to non-wage benefits?

In this country, as well as in many countries around the world, our laws, our social norms, and our values inform us of the basic principle that an honest day’s work deserves a fair and just return. While a part of that return is financial, the other part is in the form of just labor standards, access to health insurance, grievance procedures and many other resources that the employers are endowed with. Bellow you will find both domestic law and international law that shed light on the basic requirement that employers must meet in setting just forms of remuneration and labor standards for their workers.

Although these legal standards are provided to help bolster the legitimacy of the demands in your living wage campaign, it is important to remember that we, as living wage activists, are always striving to do BETTER than the most basic requirements of the law as we work towards helping increasing the standard of living for workers. As your are forming your campaign demands, keep in mind that the legal standards are usually insufficient in protecting the workers’ right to a living wage, as those in place are rarely enforced. As activists it is our calling to reach beyond the parameters of the instituted laws and demand justice when they do not provide adequate protections to workers and their families.

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What are and are not workers’ rights under US labor law?

On the website you will find a handy guide entitled “Know Your Rights” that explains what are established work place rights under US law, as well as practices of employers that are unfair though legal. Here is a link to this resource that can assist your campaign in finding exactly where US labor laws fall short of protecting workers’ right to a full living wage.

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Non-wage benefits as international human rights

On the international level a significant number of nations have come together to agree upon what are the basic rights of people by the very nature of their humanity. Some of these international covenants speak directly to the rights and entitlements of working people. Referring to these established international standards and covenants can often provide greater legitimacy to the demands of a living wage campaign.

Bellow you will find links to portions of the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, which is one of the major United Nations (UN) human rights treaties that that has been ratified by 137 UN member countries to date. These links will take you straight to the language of the covenant deals with specific aspects international labor standards that can be useful in your campaign. Although these standards are not enforceable under US labor law, the existence of these standards on an international level shows that there is world wide recognition of the importance of non-wage benefits. As living wage activists we should strive to institute these and even other international labor norms into our US legal system.

• Just and favorable working conditions:
• Adequate standard of living:
• Protection against substandard minimum wage:
• Maternity benefits:

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International Labor Organization Instruments that address non-wage benefits

On the International Labor Organization website you can easily access the hundreds of covenants and declarations that demand for non-wage benefits as the rights of every worker. Some of the rights included are related to:
• Freedom of Association
• Collective Bargaining
• Vocational Guidance and Training
• Employment Security
• Wages
• Working Time
• Occupational Safety and Health
• Maternity Protection
• Migrant Workers
• Indigenous and tribal peoples
To access these useful conventions visit

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Card Check Neutrality: A fair and democratic procedure for workers to unionize

For many workers, the ability to obtain the non-wage benefits that their families need and to secure the safe and just working conditions that they are entitled to by law is stifled by difficult and convoluted procedures of organizing unions. Employers often know that if workers have an easier time organizing unions then the workers will be able to more effectively bargain for the non-wage benefits that they should be receiving in the first place. While usually unfavorable for employers, Card Check Neutrality is the easiest way for workers to organize and gain the rights that they are entitled to. Here are the links to two great resources found on the American Rights at Work and UNITE HERE’s websites that explain the importance of Card Check Neutrality when advocating for workers right to organize.

American Rights at Work Card Check Neutrality Fact Sheet

UNITE HERE’s Card Check Neutrality Document

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