By Lapakitea Mesui
Dear Beloved Student,
Janet Napolitano, President of the UC system, announced her so-called Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan July 22nd, enacting a $15 minimum wage for hired employees working at least 20 hours a week. The increase would be steadily raised over the next three years with its first increase of $13 an hour made on the 1st of Oct, 2015, eventually reaching $15 an hour by Oct 1st, 2017.
The initial reaction is to be proud, as we are the first public university in the United States to consciously endow such an act of goodwill — or so the university claims. However, one has to wonder why such good deeds have been espoused and what effects we, as students, should expect? This extension of goodwill is not meant for the students of the UC system — wait, what?
University guidelines cap employment hours of student workers at 19.5 hours per week, and the new minimum wage is for those who work at least 20 hours per week. So unfortunately, this new $15 minimum wage made by the university does not apply to students.
This begs the question of Napolitano’s, as well as the UC Board of Regents, intentions. It is counterintuitive to exclude the tens of thousands of students employed by the UC system in this piece of legislation. The only logical conclusion is that our well-being was nowhere near the forefront in creating the Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan. There has to be an ulterior motive — politics.
Let’s examine the political consequences of these actions. According to the UC Press Room, the University of California is the state’s third largest employer. The raise of minimum wage to $15 is a potential power move that might result in the state of California as a whole (whose minimum wage is currently at $9) adopting the $15 minimum wage as well.
While this act may raise the standard of living and benefit of the full-time employees of the UC system, excluding the well-being of student workers is a gross injustice. As a student worker employed by UCI, this news is quite a letdown. Student workers must balance studies, extracurriculars, and maybe some sleep in addition to their working hours. By restricting students to a mere half an hour less than other university workers, the UC System has effectively created a loophole that questions the progressiveness of this policy as a whole.
According to UCI campus data from Fall 2014, over 7,000 undergraduates were student employees, making up over 30% of the university’s workforce. With the cost of tuition ranging from roughly $14,000 to $38,000, it is easy to understand why 29% of undergraduates decided to seek employment within the university. While tuition is frozen for now, students still have other financial headaches, including lackluster relations with the Office of Financial Aid and the exorbitantly high prices of off-campus housing.
Therefore, the University of California must prioritize the wellbeing of its students and allow them the same financial benefits as other employees. Napolitano and the rest of the framers of the Fair Wage/Fair Work Plan must reconsider the parameters of this plan. Compromise must be made, not by removing the cap, but extending the new minimum wage to adjust within students’ working hours. Though I am ecstatic for the newly-hired full-time employees, and admire the university’s efforts, the University of California must make equal accommodations for its students by allowing them the same minimum wage rate. We student workers rightfully deserve to receive good news of our own.
A disappointed student
Lapakitea Mesui is a third-year criminology, law and society major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.