Student workers, administration and the right to a dignified wage

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Are we not adults? Is it our fault as students that meritocracy finally worked and we were able to achieve merit-based scholarships? Is it our fault that our parents are not able to pay the exorbitant prices of higher education — especially at this institution — so we qualified for federal grants and subsidized loans? We have worked all our lives, manually, intellectually, often both at once to get to where we are. We are not less worthy of a fair wage due to being students.  

Appleton Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) has had two meetings with the administration. At one of those meetings an administrator said on the subject of wages: “It’s the same with faculty and staff, there are real adults without financial aid that are working and finding ways, seeking ways, to feed themselves and take care of their families,” seemingly oblivious that many of us students are doing the exact same thing here on campus, or alluding to often-repeated claim students don’t work hard enough or know how to budget money. Regardless of federal or parental financial support, labor is labor and should be recompensed accordingly, regardless of the myth of dependence upon parents or government. That administrator followed up by saying they acknowledge salaries are a real “area to be addressed,” and a wage increase at this school is being “considered,” but they couldn’t give us a definite answer regarding a wage increase then, only assuring us it was considered. Workers’ wages need more than consideration; workers need action taken to achieve these long-awaited solutions. Is it not a bigger issue that despite grants and scholarships, students are still struggling? And isn’t it more appalling that administrators are aware of both “real adults’” and students’ struggles, yet are indifferent?  

Previously, administrators took issue with SDS’s proposed Fair Labor Resolution using “demand” instead of “request.” They claimed we had been disrespectful and had treated them unfairly for bringing such a demand forth to them instead of engaging in a discussion like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr did – according to them. We would like to remind the administration Dr. King’s words: “Freedom is never voluntarily given; it must be demanded.” Likewise, José Martí’s words summarize our position: “Rights are to be taken, not requested; seized, not begged for.” We students have the right to a dignified wage, regardless of what we’re led to believe. We are adults and don’t need to be tone-policed or patronized. SDS has repeatedly asked administrators to acknowledge that the current minimum wage is unfair. They have failed to do so. Is this what students should expect from an administration that portrays itself as  “progressive”?  

 We are no longer in the latter decades of the 20th century, where the cost of higher education was a fraction of what it is now. Tuition costs at public institutions from the 1970s to the1990s were about $560 – $2,700. This would be about $3,000 $5,000 adjusted for inflation. Unsurprisingly, private institutions were more expensive back then they are now, with tuition costs being about five times more than at public institutions during that time. These previous and following statistics was found at, Department of Labor and the inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These statistics show how tuition prices have risen in public institutions and even more drastically at private institutions, but as most know wages have stagnated – actually decreasing when compared to rising rates of inflation and of college costs. From 1970-1999, minimum wage was about $8.23 – $10.40, with this range being adjusted for inflation. Additionally, college students from 1970 – 1999 could have paid their way through college themselves; one would have to work about 5.5 – 10 hours per week at minimum wage to pay their way through public university, and about 25 – 50 hours per week to support oneself at private institutions. This is the minimum wage we are talking about. 

Today it’s unimaginable to think one could pay off their tuition or afford necessities making minimum wage on their own. It’s common to hear, often from our own university’s administrators, “minimum wage isn’t supposed to support a person,” or minimum wage is meant for “low-skill” or “unskilled” labor. I would like to see those who claim such absurdities work at those jobs that seem to fluctuate between “essential” and “low skill” quite frequently. Labor is labor. Would the school even be able to function if exploitation of student labor wasn’t part of their so-called non-profit business model? What about Bon Appetit’s for-profit model? No, they would not. Not only because they rely on exploiting student labor, but because no one else in Appleton wants to work for such undignified wages – evidenced by so-called staffing shortages, which is actually a shortage of dignified, livable wages. Nothing more. Administrators claim Lawrence University’s wages are “competitive” when compared to other schools, but comparing ourselves to further exploitative schools is pointless. If the university and Bon Appetit want to function properly, they need to raise minimum wage to $15 per hour.  

The administration asked us, “What would you propose outside of wages to respond to the food issue? You proposed the problem, I want to know if you have a solution. How do we address the problem that you’ve identified in terms of student services?” In case it’s not apparent, issues with wages and food on this campus are intertwined. Why can’t students access meal facilities according to what is advertised and what they pay for their meal plan? Because the café, commons and corner store underpay their staff,  no one wants to work there. This leads to nutritional instability on campus, regardless of whether  the students experiencing this instability work on campus, elsewhere or not at all. Low wages on campus lead to multitudes of other issues but the administration thinks wages can be ignored.  

We cannot let the classism spewed by our school’s administrators and mainstream media deter us from knowing that the working class is exploited. Lawrence’s minimum wage is merely $1.12 more than the poverty wage, $6.13 per hour. It is $6.68 less than a living wage. In Appleton, the living wage is $13.93. These numbers are drawn from MIT’s Living Wage website 

  Creating a living wage for one person was exactly the point of the federal minimum wage in the first place, according to the Department of Labor and Pepperdine University. Now, the ruling class once again changed the narrative at their convenience, making it look as if our fellow students and non-student workers deserve less while the administrative elements inherently deserve more. Big business and its lackeys—politicians, bureaucrats, economists—all send forth a stream of falsehoods and proposals which purposely obscure the true issue at hand; they lead us to believe solutions can be achieved without addressing the issues of class and wage labor. They want us to believe change can be achieved while the administrative bodies continue business as usual. This is impossible.  

SDS shall always fight for what is right. A $15 per hour wage is merely the start of the copious amount of wealth redistribution which needs to occur on this campus and beyond. We the students must dare to struggle if we ever shall dare to win. Stand up, fight back!