USM President Rodney Bennett greets protesters holding a packet containing the names of supporters calling for a living wage during a rally at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Thursday, May 4, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

University of Southern Mississippi’s president announced a pay increase for hourly employees on Wednesday, two weeks after United Campus Workers, a labor union, held a rally to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage. The last time USM increased its minimum wage was nearly a decade ago.

Starting July 9, benefit-eligible, hourly workers will see the minimum wage increase to $11.25 an hour, up from $10.10 an hour, President Rodney Bennett wrote in an email to faculty and staff. These workers will also receive a 3% adjustment. 

Graduate assistants, as well as many faculty and staff, will see pay increases, but non-benefit eligible positions such as visiting faculty and adjunct instructors will not be included. 

Samuel Ewing, an adjunct instructor who helped organize UCW’s rally, said he was thrilled at the raise, calling it “just the beginning.” He said he hopes the raise will become a “catalyst” for more faculty and staff to get involved with UCW, which will continue to push for $15 an hour and for adjuncts to receive a raise. 

“This is a huge victory for all working people at this university,” Ewing said. “It demonstrates that organizing isn’t just our right as working people, but that it actually works.” 

In his email, Bennett, who is stepping down next year, thanked faculty and staff like Ewing for participating in UCW’s protest on May 5. He wrote that the university was not able to commit the institutional funds needed to raise the campus minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

“A multi-year plan would be required to make an adjustment of that size for all categories of employees,” Bennett wrote. “Although I am unable to commit future institutional funds outside of what was made possible by this year’s additional legislative allocation, I am pleased that we were able to make meaningful progress in raising the minimum hourly rate for benefit-eligible employees to $11.25 per hour.” 

With limited exceptions, most salaried faculty and staff will receive a 3% pay increase this year, according to Bennett’s email. Starting this year, USM will also increase stipends for graduate assistants by $1,500 each fall semester for the next three years, bringing their total pay in fall 2024 to $11,700.

Margaret Ann McCloud, USM’s spokesperson, did not respond by press time to Mississippi Today’s question about how many hourly workers will benefit from the wage increase. 

Janice Jones, a custodian who helped organize UCW’s rally, said she learned about the raises Wednesday morning after Bennett called her for a meeting. She said that Bennett also asked her about the issues that custodians have with the maintenance department’s points-based attendance system, which Mississippi Today detailed in an article last week.

“I wish it had been more, but what we got is a beginning,” she said. “They’re going to work with us, and we’re going to look at it as a win, because we did win — but the winnings aren’t over.”

READ MORE: How one custodian is fighting fear to get a pay raise at University of Southern Mississippi


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Molly Minta, a Florida native, covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on higher education. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, Molly worked for The Nation, The Appeal, and Mother Jones.