Barchi raises minimum wage for student workers to $11 per hour
The 30 percent jump will benefit more than 13,000 students at Rutgers
On Monday afternoon, University President Robert L. Barchi announced a 30 percent increase in minimum wages for students working in all facets of the University, from recreation and dining services to the libraries.
Effective on Jan. 1, 2018, this initiative will increase the minimum salary from the state-mandated $8.44 per hour to $11 per hour. In an email to the student body, Barchi said he hopes this change will offer financial assistance to students who need it.
“Despite our efforts, more than 13,000 of you still must commit many hours each week to working on our campuses to defray the cost of your education,” Barchi said. “While holding an on-campus job can offer many benefits, we are cognizant of the delicate balance that you must strike between work and your studies.”
This is the first time Barchi has pushed past the state minimum wage to increase salaries for Rutgers students.
His statement arrives amid a campaign by the Rutgers chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) to raise the University’s minimum wage to $15 an hour — a number that Columbia University and the University of California system have already adopted.
Over the last year, the organization has coordinated sit-ins, demonstrations and a social media campaign entitled "#fightfor15" in an effort to sway the administration. As part of this movement, Mariah Wood, an organizer for USAS, is hosting a protest on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. at the Douglass Student Center.
“Of course (the protest) is still happening,” the School of Arts and Sciences senior said an hour after the president released his statement to the public. “Rutgers USAS has forced Barchi to raise the minimum wage through our campaign — but we aren't going to settle. Eleven dollars is still less than a living wage, and us as workers deserve more. We deserve $15. We deserve to be able to put food on the table and pay our rent. We deserve bread and roses.”
In a meeting with The Daily Targum earlier this semester, Barchi addressed USAS’s campaign directly, commenting on the logistical barriers that stand in the way of meeting the demands of student workers.
He said the process of raising the minimum wage is not as straightforward as it seems, particularly in light of New Jersey’s rapidly declining state appropriations. In total, raising the hourly pay to $14 would cost the University around $3.9 million.
“Well first of all, I don’t have $3.9 million,” Barchi said. “But if I did, that would pose an interesting philosophical question.”
The dilemma, he said, boils down to whether the University should direct that sum of money toward targeted need-based programs like the Rutgers Assistance Grant (RAG) or put it toward the salaries of thousands of student workers.
“These employment situations are not need based. It’s not that the people who are being employed don’t need it, but there is no way that it is need based,” Barchi said. “So there’s a philosophical question whether, in a time of very limited resources, you want to push to raise the distribution of funds in a broad based undirected way.”
Wood said the raise to $11 is only the first step of a long road to the campaign’s success. At the time of publication, more than 150 individuals had indicated interest in Tuesday’s march on Facebook.
“This is only a partial victory. Barchi is terrified of us because we have power. He is willing to throw us a bone because he knows we have the ability to make it so he can't pass a budget — he knows we can shut this University down,” Mariah Wood said in .
Wood said students at Rutgers are tired of skipping meals and being unable to make ends meet. Until that is no longer a reality, she said USAS will continue their “Fight for 15.”
Julia Ferris, a senior in the School of Social Work, is a student worker at the Neilson Dining Hall. Her wage, and those of her co-workers, will be directly affected by Monday’s announcement.
“(The raise) is great,” Ferris said. “My workers deserve it, they're worth $15. I still think that we deserve $15 and I plan on going to the protest. I also hope that departments don't take this as an opportunity to slash shifts and reduce staffing. Barchi should allocate some of the free funding to departments that are self sufficient to ensure that students don't end up getting laid off because of the raise.”
As The Targum previously reported, the average Brower Commons employee makes roughly $12,000 per year. Students like Ferris, who are employed by Rutgers Dining Services, are subjected to a mandatory meal deduction of $3.30 per shift.
The 30 percent raise will decrease the divide between this figure and the New Jersey poverty line, which stands at $23,000.
“I have made it a goal to put as much of Rutgers’ revenues back into the academic mission as possible, and financial assistance in all forms for students is at the top of my list,” Barchi said in his email. “Please know that we will always be seeking new ways to support you on your journey toward a Rutgers degree.”