Student senate seeks to increase student wages

The University Student Senate started an initiative to increase student minimum wage to ease financial burdens.

Sociology senior Kali Suchy works on updating computer software at the CLA Language Center in Jones Hall on Friday, Sept. 28 on East Bank. Suchy has been working at the CLA Language Center through a work study program since her freshman year.

Courtney Deutz

Sociology senior Kali Suchy works on updating computer software at the CLA Language Center in Jones Hall on Friday, Sept. 28 on East Bank. Suchy has been working at the CLA Language Center through a work study program since her freshman year.

Michelle Griffith

The hourly pay for University of Minnesota student Megan Hanson’s job at Wilson Library recently increased to $9.86 per hour — the highest it’s been since she started working there in 2017. 

Even though she works 15 to 20 hours per week, she said she barely makes enough to cover her rent and often withdraws from her savings.

“If my friends want to go to a concert, I have to really budget for it – just to do one fun thing every once in a while,” Hanson said. “It’s definitely stressful.”

The University’s Student Senate recently launched a year-long initiative to increase student minimum wage on all University campuses. The initiative hopes to ease financial burdens for students like Hanson.

With the resolution in its beginning stages, USS members say they’re focusing on making a compelling argument to the University’s administration. They’re asking the University to increase the wages of student workers on all campuses to match the local minimum wage of the surrounding area.

On the Twin Cities campus, students who work on East or West Bank would have their pay raised to match Minneapolis’ minimum wage of $11.25 per hour. This is scheduled to increase to $15 per hour by 2024.

“The way we’re approaching this is that we want to advocate for student compensation at all levels,” said USS Chair Catalina Anampa Castro.

USS Vice Chair Aleksander Holleran said each campus would have a different policy outcome as minimum wage policy varies between cities.

While many students advocate for an increase in hourly wages, some at the University say there isn’t a simple solution, said Matt Kramer, vice president of university and government relations.

“This is a job, but it is financial aid,” Kramer said. “So, when people say, ‘I want to earn more money,’ or they want to talk about a living wage … I would like everybody to back up and remember: student employment is a form of financial aid.”

But USS members say student pay is less than the pay non-students receive for doing the same work, with many students using income for things besides tuition.

“For most of the students that you talk to, this [job] is how they pay their rent,” Holleran said. “This is how they buy food. This is how they sustain their life.”

Student group 15 for Student Workers hopes to eventually raise student pay to the level of Minneapolis minimum wage. Currently, minimum wage on the Twin Cities campus for students is $9.65 per hour, according to University’s Office of Human Resources.

“I think that students deserve at least the same minimum wage as other Minneapolis workers,” said Anna Peter, co-founder of 15 for Student Workers. 

Kramer said students are exempt from the city’s minimum wage because University student employment was never meant to be a living wage — only to help aid the cost of tuition. 

Since the University strives to give financial aid to as many of its students as possible, Kramer said the University deliberately hires as many students as they can.

Because the University has a limited amount of financial aid, increasing the minimum wage would most likely reduce the number of students the University can employ, he said.

“I mean this in a very sincere way … if the Minneapolis minimum wage is higher than the University wage, then all of us in a democracy have choices,” Kramer said. “You can work across the street on Washington Avenue or University Avenue and earn a different wage, and that’s 45 feet away.”

When asked what would happen if students left campus to work elsewhere, Kramer said the University would not be significantly impacted because there are more students interested in working than available positions.

The students who are most affected by these reduced wages are international students, Anampa said. Some visas only allow the student to work on campus.

Many University student jobs, like dining hall positions and maintenance jobs, also hire non-students to fill positions. These workers are paid more than students who are holding the same position because they belong to a union, Holleran said. USS hopes to reduce some of the pay gap between students and non-students. 

Kramer said people often don’t realize the flexibility of University jobs, which helps compensate for the lower wage. 

“Student workers understand that if you’re working for the University of Minnesota you have significantly higher flexibility than … a non-University employer,” Kramer said.