HATTIESBURG — University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett has announced a new minimum salary of $21,000 a year to go into effect July 1.
Currently 194 employees, many of them in custodial positions, make below that amount.
Bennett called the salary hikes “the right thing to do.” He said that many employees work second and third jobs to make ends meet.
“I am committed to improving that as much as possible,” he said Tuesday during a question and answer session with reporters.
The university cost will total $563,000 — split into $458,000 in salary increases and $105,000 in fringe benefits.
The pay increase will raise the minimum hourly wage to $10.10.
The initiative will include permanent part-time employees.
Bennett said the issue was presented to him by an employee during an open forum after he was selected as the preferred candidate to become the school’s next president.
“She said that her salary was just a little bit above minimum wage,” Bennett said. “She asked me if I could work as hard as I could to improve the salaries of USM employees. That comment from her never left me.
“I think it will attract a different type of employee and allows us to have a little more longevity with the employees. This will allow employees to live the type of life that USM employees should be able to live. I think it will allow employees to spend more time with their families and children. It’s the right thing to do and it will have an impact on the economics of the community.”
Bennett said the move was a “jumping off point” and that he would eventually look to increase the pay for other university employees.
“There may be others that say I need a raise too, and I’m not going to argue with that,” Bennett said. “But we have to start somewhere.”