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November 24, 2008
By John Trent
There are times when a photo tells only part of the story, and times when it says everything. For Susan Chandler, the photo that leads her faculty biography at the website for the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Social Work seems to say it all.
Chandler is smiling in the photo, and the sign in her hand aptly sums her distinguished 15-year career at Nevada: “Respect the civil rights and civil liberties of all!”
Chandler, an associate professor of social work, is one of the state’s foremost experts on important social and economic issues such as welfare, immigration and the living-wage realities of everyday Nevadans.
Her 2001 study, “Working Hard, Living Poor,” is considered the ultimate source of information on the state’s minimum wage. Chandler’s conclusion, which resonates even more compellingly today as the state is locked in economic downturn, was that minimum wage jobs offered in the state don’t cover the most basic expenses a family needs.
Thanks in part to Chandler’s excellent scholarship, living wage ordinances were strengthened.
“What was really great,” Chandler said, “was so many working people benefited from it.”
Along with her Social Work colleague, Associate Professor Jill Jones, Chandler, over the past eight years, has also studied female workers employed in casinos. The duo has interviewed numerous casino employees, and provided the state with rare insight into this underappreciated and underpaid segment of Nevada’s workforce.
The two School of Social Work researchers found that although the work is often extremely physical – maids, for example, must clean 15 to 18 rooms per day, lifting mattresses and scrubbing bathtubs on their hands and knees – pay seriously lags. It is common for many female casino workers to have to work two fulltime jobs in order to make ends meet, Chandler said.
“This is really about justice,” Chandler said. “Why should somebody work 80 hours, and two fulltime jobs, just to pay basic bills? It’s against everything this country stands for.”
The situation is not entirely bleak, Chandler added.
“We discovered that these women have a strong place of workplace justice,” she said. “They are courageous in their struggles to achieve the humane work conditions they deserve. Our appreciation of women in casino work has grown tremendously as a result of this study.”
In addition to the scope and impact of her scholarly research, Chandler also has a strong reputation as a gifted and inspiring teacher.
“Susan inspires creative thought that challenges notions of the conventional,” said one of Chandler’s former students, Christina Bratiotis. “She required that we brought the best of ourselves to each session.”
Chandler’s work has earned numerous awards. Among them, in 2004, she was awarded National First Prize in the Influencing State Policy contest for “Nickle & Dimes: On (not) Getting By in Nevada: Group Research and Legislative Advocacy in a BSW Policy Course”; in 2002, she was named Nevada Social Worker of the Year for what the selection committee called “her commitment to economic and social justice in Nevada and her outstanding work on the ‘Working Hard, Living Poor’ report.”
“She’s a remarkable teacher, scholar, activist and individual,” Jones said. “Her work has always been imbued with what we discovered among the women casino workers in our study: a need to make the world a better place.”
John Trent is senior editor of news and features in digital initiatives.