TAA RALLY

Around 100 graduate students and supporters gather outside Bascom Hall during a November rally for the Teaching Assistants Association, a union representing graduate student assistants, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

UW-Madison students who also work for the university say pay raises announced Tuesday won’t help them make ends meet.

The "'raise' is an insult to student workers," said Genevieve Baldwin, a student worker and member of the Student Labor Action Coalition. "This is nothing more than political posturing."

The minimum pay for hourly student workers will increase from $7.25 to $9 starting Sept. 1, in time for the next academic year, the campus news service announced. Graduate student assistants will get a two percent pay hike on July 1.

In the announcement of the wage hike, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank pointed to educational and work experience gleaned through campus employment and her hope that raising wages to $9 an hour will provide an “extra financial cushion.”

“Many undergraduate and graduate students face difficulty with making time for class work, studying and finding time to work enough hours to cover living expenses. Raising the minimum hourly student wage to $9 will hopefully provide an extra financial cushion, help them pay for their own education and reduce their reliance on loans,” Blank said.

Hourly student workers say most of them already make more than $9 an hour, rates too low to get by on that will not be improved by the hike in minimum wage.

“The increase in the minimum wage is appreciated, but the reality is we need a $15 minimum wage, just like anyone else,” said UW-Madison senior Danny Levandowski. He has worked for the university’s dining operations since 2013 and now makes $9.80 an hour as a student supervisor in charge of 25-30 employees each shift, Levandowski said.

Wages like that won’t pay for school, let alone the cost of living, he said. “We’re people too, we have the same expenses.”

The campus on Jan. 1 increased its minimum hourly wage for nonstudent employees to $12.83, the city of Madison’s “living wage.”

UW-Madison’s pay to student workers was targeted last year as part of the national Fight for $15 campaign that sent low-wage workers into the streets demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour to reach what activists call a living wage.

The university can’t afford to bring its hourly workers up to $15 an hour, which would cost an estimated $24 million a year, spokesperson John Lucas said in April.

There are more than 10,000 student employees at UW–Madison working at jobs in dining facilities, research labs, administrative offices and libraries, according to a UW News release. Graduate assistants, who teach and perform research, number more than 5,300.

Lucas put the average student wage at $9.75 an hour last year. That means, as students workers asserted, that the “average” student’s earnings will not be improved by the minimum wage hike announced Tuesday.

Student groups, including SLAC and the Working Class Student Union, have been advocating for an increase to student wages to a minimum of $15 an hour.

Samuel Park is active with both SLAC and WCSU.

He says that the university’s actions on student wages don’t reflect rising tuition for out of state students or the “crippling” debt many students are amassing from borrowing to pay for their education on top of living expenses.

“A $9 minimum wage simply isn’t enough. We need a living wage, we need $15 an hour,” he said.

What’s more, policies regarding such things as pay raises and grievance procedures while on the job go unaddressed, Park said.

Madison Laning, chair of Associated Students of Madison, the campus student government organization, said concerns over student pay have been eclipsed in recent months by debate over faculty compensation.

“There are many discussions right now about faculty salaries and retaining the best and brightest faculty, yet we have to turn that conversation to students as well,” Laning said.

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“Many times our university fails to recognize the socioeconomic diversity of the student body and the need for many students to work multiple jobs in order to be a student,” she said.

The university news release points to consultation with campus adminstrators and students in deciding on the wage increases. But Baldwin said Blank denied student requests to form a permanent shared government committee to gradually implement a living wage and address other workplace issues.

Sergio Gonzalez, co-president of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, said graduate assistants would have needed an increase of 13.6 percent just to get their pay back to the 2002 level, adjusted for inflation.

The rising cost of health insurance and required students fees — together with the cost of living — mean graduate students working for the university are losing ground.

“We are in the bottom half of the Big Ten and not even close to other research universities” in terms of graduate assistant pay, Gonzalez said.

He said TAA was informed, not consulted, on the change in pay. And he said the university is misrepresenting what graduate students actually make.

The university’s news release calculates graduate student pay rates at, for example, $31,297 for the academic year for a teaching assistant with a 100 percent appointment.

Gonzalez said those numbers are “disingenuous,” because as university officials are aware, “100 percent” appointments are rare, even through many teaching assistants end up putting in what amounts to a full work week.

Much more common are one-third to one-half time appointments resulting in pay ranging from some $10,000 to $15,000 a year, he said.

Complaining about uncompensated work is difficult when students frequently are working for professors whose recommendations they need to advance in their academic career, he said.

“And it’s hard to put down your pen and say ‘I’ve worked my 20 hours,’ when we are trying to help our students. We want to be compensated for our work rather than told to stop working,” Gonzalez said.

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