What’s Going on With the Fight for a $15/Hour Minimum Wage at Wesleyan?

wage increase

Full disclosure: I’m a member of USLAC and one of the proponents of the resolution discussed in this feature.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the resolution that passed at Sunday night’s WSA meeting but probably not because the only WSA-related things we hear about are Argus controversies with its ~concise, catchy~ title, “Resolution to Raise the Minimum Wage for Wesleyan Students.” All jokes aside, that’s exactly what it aims to do. The resolution, proposed by a group of WSA members working with members of student groups United Student/Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), seeks to address the issue of overworked students and their low wages.

It’s a damn long resolution, with about a thousand intricate statistics, a cheesy Wilbur Fisk quote, and at least a dozen phrases like “a microcosm of the world we wish to inherit,” but here is the resolution if you’re curious anyway. The tl;dr version is as follows: Gradually raise the minimum wage on campus to $15/hour by 2020, meaning students will work fewer hours to meet their federal work-study or Term Time employment allotment.

The University of Washington-Seattle, Columbia, and NYU recently passed similar resolutions, and despite what administrators might tell you about the cost of living in New York or Seattle being much higher than in Middletown, our tuition is almost as high as Columbia’s (and is even higher than NYU’s commuter cost). The momentum surrounding this movement currently—with schools, cities, and states nationwide increasing minimum wages to $15—combined with the shady administrative attitude toward work-study issues has inspired students to bring this movement to our campus.

What shady administrative attitude, you say? In this 2014 Argus article, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Antonio Farias is quoted saying:

“What we would like to do is find that core nucleus that’s going above 20 hours and find out why they’re doing it…Is it because of financial need? Or is it because they have a certain lifestyle that they want to mimic? We know that some students want to mimic a lifestyle that they’re not part of. They’re working-class kids that want to mimic a lifestyle that is very middle class or upper middle class because they feel that going out to lunch with someone, everyone else throws down their money, and they have to sort of count….People make choices about needs and wants. We cover 100 percent of your need, but we’re not necessarily going to cover your want.”

farias

Yikes…I don’t know who Farias has been talking to, but most students I know are working to pay off their ridiculously high tuition and/or loan fees, not because they’re trying to throw down for multi-course meals at Middletown’s ~finest dining establishments~. But administrative attitudes surrounding work-study students perpetuate the very socioeconomic stratification they’re trying to change in the first place.

Currently, about 100 work-study students on this campus are working over 20 hours a week. That means they’re working way more hours than they spend in class. Such a large workload leaves very little time to join student groups, play sports, work on physical and mental wellbeing, and hang out with friends, not to mention sleep and eat and do homework.

Oh, and another thing: administrators admit that the school’s data analytics surrounding work-study are pretty bad. Like, so-bad-that-nobody-can-really-figure-out-whether-students-are-currently-employed bad. A lot of that confusion surrounding work-study data comes from having a really bad payroll system, PeopleSoft. But part of that comes from not having a standardized system of student employment. Basically, individual departments have hecka jurisdiction, and there’s very little communication between individual departments. Luckily, the new Director of Financial Aid/Certified Cool Dude Robert D. Coughlin is working on synthesizing all this information.

But back to the lack of communication between departments. It means that disparities in wages already exist on campus. For instance, Usdan student workers tend to start off making wages over the campus minimum. But the lack of communication between departments means that most departments aren’t even sure where they stand in relation to other departments’ wages. Turns out some departments haven’t even been asking students if they’re on work-study because they didn’t realize that’s something they should be asking in interviews (oops). The lack of communication between departments means that those of us proposing the resolution have to do research and make connections that haven’t really been clearly made before. Possibly ever.

Almost everyone who reads the resolution immediately concedes that this would change our campus in really significant ways. For one, work-study students would be working less hours while making the same amount of money, giving them more time to partake in other activities. Besides, synthesizing all the employment-related information will cut down on miscommunication and disparities between departments. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what Josh Nodiff ’19, one of the bill’s other proponents, has to say:

“Certain students, especially those on work-study, are disadvantaged by financial barriers that consume most of their time outside of the classroom. In order to satisfy those requirements, students struggle to balance work with academics, often sacrificing time for extracurriculars, socialization, and self-care. By increasing Wesleyan’s minimum wage to $15/hr, we can begin to alleviate that burden.”

Josh, himself a work-study student, is currently not employed on campus because of the system in place. His commitment to student groups—seriously, the dude is incredible and involved in everything—interferes with his ability to work the shifts currently available to students. The resolution would allow a student like Josh to reach his work-study allotment in shorter shifts. On the topic of work-study allotment, it’s worth mentioning that most students currently don’t reach their allotment. So all those hours of work, which take them away from other activities, don’t even cover their entire work-study package.

This resolution certainly has a long way to go before it goes into effect, but there is hope. USLAC and the bill’s other proponents are confident that, with recent victories on other campuses and in states and cities nationwide, this wage increase is both feasible and necessary at Wesleyan. Regardless of administrative attitudes, the fight for $15 isn’t going anywhere.

For more information regarding the fight for $15, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or one of the bill’s other signatories. To get involved with USLAC, come to our meetings in the UOC on Tuesdays at 9 PM.