Group protests Rutgers use of minimum wage for employees
“RU really revolutionary?” “Overworked and underpaid,” chanted over 30 student protesters, stunning alumni, administrators and others in attendance at the Old Queens bell ringing ceremony, which kicked off Rutgers’ 250th birthday celebration festivities on Thursday afternoon.
Members of the Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (Rutgers USAS) unveiled their new campaign, an effort to raise minimum wage for on-campus employees to $15.
“This effort includes wages for dining employees, bus drivers, facility maintenance staff and student-employees,” said Maggie Woodruff, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
USAS is an international organization run by youth and students.
“(The organization) develops youth leadership and runs strategic student-labor solidarity campaigns with the goal of building sustainable power for working people,” according to its webpage.
Their efforts are encompassed within three themes -- garment worker solidarity, campus worker justice and student worker organizing. Of the three, each unit of USAS can choose one or multiple campaigns to primarily focus on, said Akarshna Premanand, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.
This semester, the Rutgers chapter of USAS decided to advocate #15oncampus, she said.
An effort to raise minimum wage is being discussed at many other institutions, like public New York universities, and a minimum wage of $15 is already in place at other institutions like Columbia University and schools with the University of California system.
In October, Harvard Dining Services employees held a successful 22-day strike after its union and the university could not resolve disagreements regarding wages and health benefits.
“Harvard will pay its full-time dining services employees at least $35,000 a year and cover increased copayments until 2021,” according to The Harvard Crimson.
At Rutgers, student workers generally earn the New Jersey state minimum wage, $8.38, said Daniel Taylor, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. Rutgers USAS hopes to bump this amount to $15.
“Although we stand in solidarity and we are working with the laborers and workers in the campus, it’s not safe for them to be open about it right now because there is fear of consequences,” Woodruff said.
Previously, Rutgers USAS condemned the use of sweatshops abroad by protesting the University’s ties with apparel companies like Nike, which used sweatshops.
As a result, Rutgers terminated a $125 million contract with Nike, Taylor said.
During this campaign, USAS communicated with the administration successfully.
“A conversation with administration regarding working wages has not occurred yet,” Taylor said.
This demand is not something that is out of reach when it is put in contrast with the salaries of other employees, like administrators and coaches of sports teams, Woodruff said.
Rutgers’ head football coach, Chris Ash, in his first year, makes $2 million and is eligible for a maximum bonus of $960,000, she said.
“Some people may say ‘he deserves that money’, and while that may be true, I think other workers on campus deserve even more to feed and house their families,” Woodruff said. “It’s especially frustrating when funds to implement this decision are available. There was a $72 million surplus last year in budget and in unrestricted reserves the University has $771 million.”
University President Robert L. Barchi’s response to Rutgers USAS’s protest will largely impact their next move, Woodruff said.
Rutgers USAS works closely with the Rutgers Council of American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), a faculty union, as well as several other labor organizations in New Brunswick and Newark.
USAS hopes to inspire students and workers to come out in solidarity, Taylor said.
“I think it comes down to a moral decision. (If President Barchi raised the wage), he would be telling workers on this campus that we value their work,” Premanand said. “How can we be revolutionary without respecting that dignity? Showing such respect is our responsibility.”
Minna Kim is an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.