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Friday, April 3, 2020

Confusion with AS wages as minimum wage increases

Washington state’s minimum wage increase was meant to be positive news for those making less than $11 an hour, but the increase is causing tension in student jobs and possibly a hike in university services and activity fees.

“At this point, it looks like an increase is inevitable unless we cut out from major areas,” Mary Moeller said, Associated Students vice president for business and operations.

Moeller is a member of the services and activities fee committee and thinks students should expect an increase greater than last year’s $8 increase.

When the wage increase went into effect in January, all the wage categories below $11 were bumped up to a flat $11, Moeller said.

“The only way it can make sense short term is by rationalizing that students don’t deserve to make money for the work they do, which I think is completely false.”

Maggie Carr    

“That means now hourly employees, assistant coordinators and maybe coordinators are all being paid the same wage,” Moeller said. “Which, as you can imagine, is causing some tension in the organization,” Moeller said.

How much the fee could increase for students depends on a bill currently in the Washington state Legislature, Moeller said in an email. Currently, student fees are linked to tuition cost and one cannot increase without a rise in the other.

“This policy was put in place to keep fees from spiraling out of control, but in practice it keeps students from having autonomy over their fees,” Moeller said in an email.

Last budget cycle, fees and tuitions costs were decoupled with a last-minute budget provision. If tuition and fees are not decoupled by this year’s bill, tuition will either increase slightly or stay the same, as will the student activity fee.

If the bill, House Bill 1433, goes into effect, then students might pay more in fees to support the mandatory wage increase, Moeller said. If the bill doesn’t make it, the services and activities fee committee might have to cut funding from jobs, programs and other university services.

Funding could be cut from the AS budget, university athletics, housing and dining construction, department related activities, student loans, music copyrights and campus rec and club sports.

Paul Cocke, director of university communications, has not heard of any current move to increase the services and activities fee to accommodate any budget changes.

Senior Maggie Carr, the KUGS news and public affairs director, understands the university’s need for frugality, but believes structural changes about responsibilities could make AS employees happier about the change.

“Because we have one of the largest Associated Students for a college of this size, of course there’s going to be bureaucracy,” Carr said. “It’s just frustrating to be someone who is inside of it.”

Carr has one employee in her office who was already being paid over $11 so their pay didn’t increase. Carr doesn’t think that their closer pay has changed the way they interact at work.

Still, not changing the pay scale and bumping up some people to $11 an hour is a short term solution and inequitable, Carr said.

“The only way it can make sense short term is by rationalizing that students don’t deserve to make money for the work they do, which I think is completely false,” Carr said.

On Monday, March 6, the university released a new wage schedule to accommodate for the minimum wage increase, which was created by a task force and improved by the council of presidents, according to the update. The updated wage schedule now puts student jobs into three wage classifications instead of five, putting more student jobs within the same pay level.

“Additional wage increases are not planned at this time due to budget constraints,” Cocke said in an email.

Current employees’ wages will not be changed either up or down to reflect the new wage schedule. According to the update, the problem will ultimately resolve itself as students move to new jobs or graduate.

The AS budget committee made a plan shortly after the minimum wage increase to adjust the wage tables, but they were told to wait to move the wage tables until the university made a decision, Moeller said.

“Frankly, we aren’t being allowed to do our jobs,” Moeller said. “Which is, we aren’t being allowed to pay people what we want.”

The Student Employment Center will soon have a frequently asked questions section on their webpage with more information on the new pay classifications and when they will go into effect, according to the university update.
Moeller wants students to have input in the process as it’s happening, she said.  Students are allowed to attend meetings of boards like the services and activities fee committee to comment on this.

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