Gracie Mayhew wipes down counters in the women’s restroom at the University of Memphis’ University Center. Mayhew, 61, dries water from the counter and ensures the mirror is clean, paper towels are stocked and all trash is removed from the restroom each time she enters during her shift.

By Malorie Paine

MEMPHIS, TN — Three separate dumpster trips to empty an overfilling industrial sized trash can, counters in six different bathrooms wiped down once, then again, and trash from every single table has been cleared countless times. All of this in only the first hour and a half of a Monday housekeeping shift at the University of Memphis. 

Gracie Mayhew, 61, will repeat the cycle multiple times before her day’s shift ends, and she’ll cross a few more items off her checklist as well. Mayhew said she makes sure the entire first floor of the University Center is spotless during her shift. She takes care of UofM the best she can, but Mayhew struggles to afford basic necessities at home. 

The university approved a minimum wage increase of $15 per hour earlier in the year, yet university staff are still waiting. Mayhew currently receives $11 per hour. After taxes and other deductions were made, her last check was just over $750 for two weeks worth of work. Mayhew said she needs the wage increase to take effect sooner rather than later. 

Mayhew isn’t alone though. Look for blue shirts pushing trash cans around any of the university buildings, and there’s a similar story to follow. Jean Rimmber has been working full-time at U of M for 13 years, yet she makes $11.22 per hour. Despite being a full-time employee, Rimmber says she often has to make arrangements with Memphis Light Gas and Water company to ensure her power, gas and water aren’t disconnected.

“You would think someone who has been there 13 years would be making top pay, even just being a common laborer,” Rimmber said. “Our job is just as important as the professors’ jobs. If we didn’t come in, what would it look like?” 

Rimmber said she works extremely hard, and finds it disappointing that she struggles to take care of basic necessities.

“I have been having problems with paying bills,” Rimmber said. “Sometimes the lights

Custodial worker Gracie Mayhew makes her third trip to the dumpster during the first hour and a half of her shift. Mayhew ensures all trash is removed from tables, restrooms, and common areas of the University of Memphis University Center’s first floor.

might be out, not able to buy groceries, shuffling bills arounds to make ends meet. I’m not able to go on vacations. It’s hard with that wage.”

Rimmber says the increase would mean a lot for her family, but it’s needed “now, not later.”

Rimmber says she also feels the delay has lead to a decrease in staffing morale.

“Sometimes, you don’t want to go in,” she said. “The way they’re working us now, some people are running from building-to-building. It’s making it stressful on a lot of us coming to work every day.”

Sharon Gayle, another housekeeping staff member, said she struggles from paycheck to paycheck. Gayle makes $10.71 per hour, and she also has a hard time paying her bills and providing basic necessities for her daughter.

“It’s bad when you have to live payday to payday,” she said. “We have money for nothing. … We’re struggling. I don’t like to tell my baby that I can’t do things for her. Everyone wants to be able to provide for their kids.”

Gayle said she doesn’t usually let her daughter know about their financial struggles, but when she asks to get her hair or nails done, she normally just has to say not right now. Gayle said it breaks her heart to not be able to give her daughter the world. 

The unfortunate reality is that staff like Mayhew, Rimmber and Gayle are not alone. U of M staff are still waiting for their promised raise, and they see no end in sight. Chuck Gallina, Director of Public Relations for the university, said the university is waiting for the Tennessee General Assembly to approve the budget, but is unsure when this may happen.