UA will raise student employee pay to minimum wage

The University of Alaska will be raising the minimum student wage to $9.84, Alaska’s current minimum wage.

During the State of the University address on Feb. 20, UA President Jim Johnsen confirmed this decision, which follows several months of student advocacy efforts.

“I pay attention to what student government does and so I heard about it from [UAA Student Body President] Alec [Burris] and I asked the [Human Resources] staff to look into it… Then I made the decision that that was what we ought to do,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen said that he made his decision after finding out that the cost to increase the minimum student wage would be about $60,000 a year.

The current student employee wages are at $8.50, $9.50 and $10.50 per hour, depending on the job type and classification. The first two levels are below the state minimum wage.

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Photo credit: Mariah DeJesus-Remaklus

There are about 1,400 student employees in the UA system, according to UA Human Resources, and approximately 20 percent of them are paid below state minimum wage. Their wages range from $8.50 to $9.75 an hour.

“There was not a legal issue here,” Johnsen said. “It was more, in my view, a fairness issue.”

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In November, USUAA passed a resolution to propose an increase for these wages, which is one of many efforts that the student government has made to push for this change. Alec Burris, USUAA president, said he is glad that the university listened.

“I was absolutely overjoyed to see that the university had made that decision,” Burris said. “That is something that student government has been advocating for since this summer.”

Teresa Wrobel is a USUAA senator who wrote the resolution and she is excited that the students’ voices were heard.

“It’s about time. We’ve heard from some of our deans and vice chancellors that this is something that needs to happen,” Wrobel said.

Students have also spoken at public meetings to the Board of Regents.

“It’s always great to have input that we have from students going into a resolution by USUAA and that it’s going out to reach higher-ups, such as President Johnsen,” Wrobel said. “We’re really excited about that.”

Lauren Criss-Carboy is an international studies major who works at the UAA Bookstore. She says that the university’s decision is a good step.

“Because the cost of living in Alaska is quite a bit higher than other states, I feel like that’s an important thing to kind of show that they value student workers,” Criss-Carboy said.

The different classifications seem to make some student jobs less accessible, Criss-Carboy also said, especially for those who want the networking opportunities.

“If you’re an arts major and you want to work in the gallery or something and it pays $8.50, whereas if you want to go work off-campus at a restaurant, you might be making, like, $10 an hour,” Criss-Carboy said. “It makes those important student jobs less accessible to people that can’t afford to live on $8.50 an hour.”

Johnsen says that student employee positions will get the wage increase around the beginning of the hiring season for the summer.

“When the spring semester is over and we convert to the summer hiring season, that’s when it’ll go into effect,” Johnsen said. “It’ll vary by campus when this summer employment begins but estimated it’ll be late May or early June.”

This increase will eventually lead the university to look at the pay scale as a whole, Johnsen said. The three classifications will possibly be modified to accommodate for the shift in wages, but for now, Johnsen wants to address the immediate issue.

“This is step one and then next year, we’re going to look at the overall structure and maybe there are some changes that need to be made at higher levels,” Johnsen said. “At this point we figured it was the right thing to do to make this change soon.”

Burris said it is important to make sure the university follows through. He has encountered concerns about the budget, but believes that the student employee wages should not be affected.

“People looked at how much the university [budget] had been cut and said, ‘That’s not possible. We don’t have the money for that right now’,” Burris said. “This is an issue that’s on the basis of the principle that students should be paid at minimum wage and that’s not something that you need to factor budget cuts into.”