Student Employees Deserve a Living Wage

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Raymond Matthews

In a bold new resolution, UCSB’s Associated Students (A.S.) Senate is setting a new standard by demanding a “minimum living wage” for all Associated Students employees. Considering that A.S. employs 322 students, and only 33 career employees, this resolution clearly focuses on students’ financial needs that the UC itself has failed to address.

This resolution was written by Off-Campus Senators Dallin Mello and Christian Ornelas in an effort to change the university’s controversial stance on minimum wage. As of 2013, no student employee can actually earn minimum wage per UCSB policy, making this resolution a radical step for the university.

UCSB policy states that employees only qualify for a $15 minimum wage if they work 20 hours per week, suggesting that student employees receive lower wages by design. According to the resolution, multiple UC campuses don’t allow student employees to work “more than 19 hours per week, thereby systematically preventing them from qualifying for a raise under this policy.”

It’s hard to say why UCSB adopted this policy — ideally one would think that UCs cap student employees’ hours so they can focus on academics and avoid unneeded stress. However, this doesn’t explain why the university would deliberately deny students a minimum living wage, regardless of how many hours they work for the school.

Perhaps the university assumes that students can fall back on financial aid programs, scholarships, or rely on their parents to compensate for their lackluster wages, whereas career employees may completely depend on their A.S. salary. This might be true, but if students put in the same quality of work as career employees only to receive lower wages, it easily qualifies as an ethics violation.

To rectify this issue, the Associated Students Senate proposed that all A.S. employees receive a $15 per hour minimum wage, regardless of the number of hours they work. However, in its current state this resolution only addresses A.S. employees.

This has sparked debate amongst Senators and student employees alike, but it was implied that this resolution was meant to set a standard for all student employees, not just those who work for Associated Students. This leads me to believe that the Associated Students Senate hopes that other on-campus organizations follow their example and advocate for living wages in the way that the A.S. department has done.

Second-year On-Campus Senator Zion Solomon abstained from the vote because they work for the A.S. Ticket Office. However, in an interview with The Bottom Line, the Senator stated that, “As a student worker, I recognize the importance of a living minimum wage,” and hope that this resolution’s policies “can be extended to all student workers.”

Solomon also stated that even though student workers are currently exempt from receiving the “current $15 minimum wage because they’re … barred from working over 20 hours. But any student who works for the university knows that policy is rarely enforced.”

If the UC system justifies their students’ wages with a 19-hour-per-week limit, but allows students to exceed this limit without paying them accordingly, they have violated their own code of ethics, cheating students out of the wages they were promised per university policy.

This resolution forces UCSB to rethink student wages, and consider that many students see these wages as a main source of income, not just a supplementary benefit. The fact remains that if student employees provide the same quality of service as career employees, they are entitled to the same minimum living wage that career employees receive. 

Anything less belittles the work that student employees do, marking them as supplementary rather than truly valuable.

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