NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers student activists are pushing for a campus-wide minimum wage hike to $15 an hour for university employees, up from the current state hourly earnings of $8.44 an hour.
At the Oct. 5 Rutgers Board of Governors meeting, students from the Rutgers chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) took to the podium to make their case for a wage hike. The campaign has been ongoing for about a year, said Rutgers student Antolina Padua.
The bulk of university employees negatively affected by the minimum wage payment are laborers, such as janitors, landscapers and dining hall staff, and many of them students, said USAS member Mark Miller.
A number of such students told personal stories of how they’ve been affected by their difficult financial situation, how it’s clashed with their studies and how such an issue could be solved with a wage increase.
“I have worked for this university since I began attending, and let me tell you how impossible it is to live on the wage you’ve given me,” said Mariah Wood, a senior studying philosophy.
“It’s wrong that I’ve started off as a straight-A student, but watch my grades progressively decline,” Wood added.
Daniel Taylor, a senior studying history, told the board that during college, he’s worked as a research assistant, painter and dining, and eventually got pushed off campus after being unable to afford room and board.
“I work because I must, not because I want to,” Taylor said. “With each passing month, my rent was paid later and later as I fell further and further behind. If I worked more hours to make up the difference, my grades suffered as I struggled to keep up on assignments.”
Another student, Rutgers senior Greg Briskin, said he’s struggled to support himself with a minimum wage, on-campus job.
After the meeting, Rutgers President Robert Barchi spoke with activists, maintaining that a minimum wage increase would not be as straightforward as one might believe.
“We run within a 1.2 percent operating margin, for a business that’s about $4.3 billion,” Barchi told students. “I keep it that way intentionally, I’m not going to raise the operating margin because we’re taking those dollars to keep down tuition.”
Barchi credited that tactic as helping to keep the tuition increases under two percent since he arrived at Rutgers in 2012.
Spending outside the operating margin could result in the credit rating being lowered for Rutgers’ debt, meaning higher tuition for students, Barchi said
University officials could not be immediately reached for additional comment.
In 2016, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill which would have raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021, saying an increase would hurt small businesses and force companies to hire fewer workers and raises prices on their own products.