$15 Minimum Wage Activists Interrupt Temple President at Trustees Meeting

After the activists left, Today host Tamron Hall was approved as a new trustee, replacing Bill Cosby.

15 Now protesters - Broad Street - $15 minimum wage

Protesters march up Broad Street on their way to Temple president Neil Theobald’s office. (Photo | Dan McQuade)

Activists with the Philadelphia chapter of 15 Now interrupted Temple president Neil Theobald at a Board of Trustees meeting today, about an hour after marching on his office and briefly shutting down Broad Street.

Several dozen marchers gathered in the mid-afternoon at the Temple bell tower. The activists are calling for the university to institute a $15 minimum wage for its workers and for all companies contracted with it. Several activists got into Morgan Hall to speak with students, while police and security kept most of the marchers out. After that, protesters marched down the middle of Broad Street and attempted to gain access to Sullivan Hall (where Theobald’s office is). Police and other security kept out all protesters.

“Temple is an institute that calls itself community oriented, but it pays poverty wages in the poorest zip codes in the nation,” said Temple junior Zoe Buckwalter, who introduced speakers at the bell tower. “President Theobald can set an example for living wages at large Philadelphia institutions and pledge to pay workers, including student workers, $15 an hour.”

Later, activists marched to the Board of Trustees meeting at Luo Auditorium, and 12 successfully entered.

“It was chaotic,” organizer Kate Goodman emailed later. “They let us in after a lot of fighting. They made us leave our bags outside — with security guards watching the bags. We were made to empty them out and carry our things inside if we didn’t want to leave computers and other things outside.”

Protesters were eventually threatened with arrest and escorted from the auditorium. According to Joshua Albert, the Board of Trustees instituted the “no bags” rule before the meeting in an attempt to keep protesters out. In the meeting, activists did a “mic check” that ended with 10 minutes of listing positions at Temple that make less than $15 an hour.

Protesters outside Sullivan Hall, office of Temple president Neil Theobald

15 Now organizer Pele Irgangladen stands in front of Sullivan Hall, where the office of Temple president Neil Theobald is. Security and police officers blocked protesters from gaining entrance. (Photo | Dan McQuade)

When the students arrived at Sullivan Hall earlier, citywide 15 Now organizer Pele Irgangladen attempted to get into the building but was prevented by police officers. “Where is President Theobald?” Irgangladen said. “I don’t even know what he looks like!” He later asked a police officer if he’d ever met Theobald, and what color hair he had. (The officer said he’d met Theobald, but declined to answer the hair color question.)

15 Now has held more than a dozen protests in the last 18 months, advocating for a higher minimum wage for workers in Philadelphia. They’ve been successful in other cities: New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco have all successfully pushed for a $15 an hour minimum wage, while Washington D.C. will vote on it next year.

A study by the New York Times earlier this year said Philadelphia might be ill equipped to handle a raise to a $15 an hour minimum wage compared to New York or Seattle.

Activists are in a tight spot right now. Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney, expected to win election in November, won’t be inaugurated until next year. Pennsylvania law prohibits municipalities from setting their own minimum wage. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, so this law won’t change anytime soon. Some say there is a loophole that would allow the city to raise the minimum wage to $15, but the city’s law office says Philadelphia would probably lose in court.

Either way, activists are in a holding pattern of sorts now with government action. Organizer Kate Goodman explained that, as a result, 15 Now decided to take direct action against stakeholders. She says there’s no solid figure on how many workers at Temple make less than $15 an hour; the list includes security guards, cafeteria workers and students, among others.

Student workers are the lowest-paid on campus, according to 15 Now, with some making as little as $7.25 an hour in the bookstore and library. Goodman says most student workers make between $7 and $10 an hour.

After activists left the board of trustees meeting, the Today show’s Tamron Hall was unanimously approved as a new trustee. She replaces Bill Cosby.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.