NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University will be raising the campus-wide minimum wage to $11 an hour, university president Robert Barchi announced in a campus-wide email on December 11.
The move comes as a partial victory for the local labor rights group, Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (RUSAS), which has been campaigning for a $15 minimum wage.
Right now, the minimum wage on campus is the state-mandated rate of $8.44 an hour. The increase goes into effect on January 1, 2018, Barchi said, and applies to all student workers and those on Federal Work Study.
“Despite our efforts, more than 13,000 of you still must commit many hours each week to working on your 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.”
“Today, 13,000 workers received news that they would be receiving a raise to $11 an hour,” wrote RUSAS member Mariah Wood. “$11 an hour that was fought for tirelessly by students who were fed up.”
Yet the increase is a “partial victory,” according to RUSAS, in lieu of a increase to $15 an hour.
“$11 is not a living wage, and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that this was an act of goodwill,” Wood added.
Barchi has maintained that he’s handled a precarious balance to offset the cost of tuition as much as possible.
“We run within a 1.2 percent operating margin, for a business that’s about $4.3 billion,” Barchi told students at the October board of governors meeting. “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.”
Spending outside the operating margin could result in the credit rating being lowered for Rutgers’ debt, meaning higher tuition for students, Barchi said.
“Over the last several years, I am proud that we have been able to keep tuition increases to a minimum while simultaneously strengthening our academic profile,” Barchi wrote in the December 11 email.
Many students had told stories of economic woes faced while trying to attain an education and support their living situation, all while on an $8.44 wage and without the financial support of their family.
They were “fed up not being able to pay rent, skipping meals, not being able to afford medical treatment, spending the hours they should have been studying working,” Wood added.
Daniel Taylor, a senior studying art history, told the board of governors at their October meeting that during college, he’s worked as a research assistant, painter and at the dining hall.
Eventually, Taylor was 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.”
Those working at the dining hall have also been charged a mandatory $3.50 deduction for meals per shift, activists have stated, which is a significant amount for the average dining hall worker making roughly $12,000 a year.