Rule number 1, get the money first 

Rule number 2, don't forget to get the money 

Play by these rules and everything will be okay 

--Young Dolph 

If rapper Young Dolph’s “Get Paid” seems abrasive, crass and cynical, it’s because it is. What choice has our current economic and political system left us? While it is encouraging that Duke has pledged to pay a living wage, $15 an hour by 2019, many workers are left out of this agreement (part-time, contract, graduate student workers, undergraduate workers and some service workers). The latest incident, reported by Katie Jane Fernelius over at Indy Week, serves as an example of why we should keep fighting for a living wage and workplace protections for all members of the Duke community. 

I work in the Office of Student Affairs making $9.50 an hour and have been fielding the majority of phone calls coming in expressing anger and frustration over the decision to fire two Joe Van Gogh employees, Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons, for playing a rap song during their work shift (by the way, the song slaps). I’m heartened by the response. While perhaps prickly to the ears of middle-aged administrators, Young Dolph’s anthem reflects a certain kind of lived experience for many on campus—the grim reality that we all have to get paid, and many of us don’t get paid nearly enough. 

As my colleague Hannah Rogers has previously pointed out, ”[c]urrently, a gap of almost $2,000 separates many Duke graduate student workers from what Duke considers a livable wage.” One of the reasons I joined the Duke Graduate Students Union was precisely to be part of an organization that can advance the rights of workers on campus. 

Students and community members, including DGSU, voiced their opposition to the firing of Brown and Simmons by marching into the Office of Student Affairs and requesting a meeting with Larry Moneta. Moneta has since apologized for his role in the incident, stating on his personal Facebook page that he never intended for “any of the Joe Van Gogh employees be terminated,” and that he hopes “JVG management consider ways to reinstate their employment with the company.” This is not enough. 

Instead of taking exception to crude lyrics or appealing to cheap moralism, I ask Moneta to join us in advocating for a $15 an hour living wage in order to improve the lives of all workers on campus. We don’t need an apology. We need action. In the words of Young Dolph: “Play by these rules and everything will be okay.” 

Jaime Acosta Gonzalez is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in literature and is a member of the Duke Graduate Students Union, Local 27, Southern Region Workers United SEIU.