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University’s low minimum wage is a major disincentive to on-campus jobs, some students say after email about dining staff shortage

In an email sent on Nov. 19, an University administrator wrote that some dining facilities would remain closed due to understaffing, which caused students to express their opinions about the University’s minimum wage and working conditions on social media.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

After the Nov. 19 email sent by Vice President of University Services Mike Berthelsen regarding the staff shortages in dining facilities, some University of Minnesota students posted on social media to voice their frustrations about the University’s minimum wage.

Since the Minneapolis minimum wage is set to increase to $15 in the next few years, some University students said on social media they are dissuaded from working on-campus because of the low wages, so they often choose off-campus employment options.

“‘We are doing everything we can to open more dining facilities”…really??! Have you tried paying your employees more than $3/hour below [Minneapolis] minimum wage?” wrote third-year student Alexis Wagenfeld on a reddit page about the University.

Several students expressed a similar message in their posts responding to the Nov. 19 email: ‘if the University wants to solve the staffing crisis now affecting dining facilities, it should raise its minimum wage to match Minneapolis’.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the consumer price index in Minneapolis has risen about 24% between 2010 and 2021. The consumer price index measures the average change in prices over a period of time to see how far a dollar goes today compared to past years.

On Jan. 1, 2021 Minnesota statewide increased its minimum wage from $10 to $10.08 to account for inflation. The University of Minnesota’s minimum wage sits at $10.08 today.

According to University Director of Public Relations Jake Ricker, many student jobs pay more than $10.08. Additionally, starting minimum salaries for student dining hall “range from $12 – $13.50/hour.”

“Some students working in dining may be paid more based on their job and experience,” Ricker said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

Jacob Moe is a fourth-year student and has worked at the University’s athletics department’s IT office for around three years. Since 2010, Moe said his position paid around $10 an hour, however this semester, the wage increased to $13.50.

“My boss was a student here at the University of Minnesota about 10 years ago,” Moe said. “He started working the job I have currently in back in 2010. Starting pay was $10 an hour. When I started working here in 2019, my starting pay was $10 an hour”

Student reactions to Nov. 19 email

After reading the email sent out Nov. 19, Moe said he believes the University is shifting the responsibility of addressing the staffing crisis onto students, instead of University management and officials.

“I just think it’s funny,” Moe said. “I feel like it’s the classic shifting of blame from management to workers.”

Wagenfeld said they believe it is unfair for the University’s administration to claim they are doing everything they can to address understaffing, while they still will not raise the minimum wage.

“It’s the [same] reason why every single business pretty much is struggling to find entry-level employees. It’s because they do not pay those employees enough,” Wagenfeld said. “It was very strange for [the University] to make the claim that they’re doing everything that they can, when it’s clear that they’re not.”

Some of the students recommended offering more flexible hours or departmental resources to reduce stress resulting from working in understaffed conditions.

Moe said the office he works in usually has eight students hired and employed as staff, but currently has only three. This puts more pressure and responsibility on the student workers, which Moe added has created an exhausting and depressing work environment.

“I think it’s just plain and simple,” Moe said. “If the University wants to have student workers and have consistent access to labor through their student body, then they need to make the job worth working again.”

According to Moe, the only real benefit to working on-campus is the convenience of having nearby employment. But overall, he said off-campus jobs are doing a better job incentivizing students to work for them and it’s not surprising that students are choosing to work off-campus.

“I can go work on campus for $10.08 an hour as a starting wage, or I can go work two blocks down the street and make $16.50,” said Carter Yost, a second-year student and co-chair of the Minnesota Student Association’s ad hoc committee on student worker wages.

National labor shortages

According to Ricker, filling open jobs is a widespread issue with 10.4 million job openings nationwide according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Ricker added hiring challenges should not be connected directly to one variable.

Varadarajan Chari, a University professor of economics, said he was puzzled when he read the Nov. 19 email.

He added that the University’s Office of Dining Services cannot simultaneously say they can not find enough staff to keep dining facilities open, while offering wages lower than if adjusted for ten years of inflation.

“That is shameful that they are claiming they have a problem of not being able to find enough workers,” Chari said. “The simplest and most obvious device to attract more workers, which is to offer students a better wage, is something that they deliberately eschew.”

As a result of the pandemic, one way businesses adapted to labor shortages was by offering bonuses and raising hourly wages. According to Chari, the University administration could implement this, but chooses not to.

Clarification: This story was updated to include information about starting wages for student dining hall workers.

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