Most University of Maine students recall how last November, about 50 students protested in the Memorial Union to have Samantha Warren, the University of Maine System’s community relations director, removed. This was part of a movement of outrage after Warren convened with state legislators to limit student workers’ rights. A November Maine Campus article by Leela Stockley identifies how these student workers put forth a list of demands which included Warren’s resignation, the creation of chancellor office hours, increased staffing of student employerd among others. The Beacon notes how students were simultaneously petitioning for a the minimum wage on campus to be raised to $15 per hour, and for working conditions to be improved. It is both disappointing that Warren worked against student rights, and commendable that students participated in democracy for a noble cause. However, student workers are frankly not worth $15 per hour, and campus working conditions are not as dire as some students claim.
Firstly, UMaine student employees do not deserve more than the minimum wage. In the 2016 ballot question, Mainers voted to increase the state minimum wage by $1 each year until 2020, after which it will be adjusted according to inflation. The Maine DOL reports that the current minimum wage is $12 per hour, with the minimum wage at the time of protest being $11 per hour. This decision to drastically increase the minimum wage is a problem in itself, as the Foundation for Economic Education details how doing so would create inflation, job loss, automation, price increases, businesses closing or moving out of state, more pressure on small business owners and other challenges. But this is a separate issue.
UMaine students’ labor is not worth $3 more than the state minimum wage. CareerExplorer reports that the median wage for Maine firefighters is around $16.45 per hour, ZipRecruiter estimates that Maine police officers average $21.46 per hour, and the National Education Association estimates that starting teachers average $19.39 per hour. If UMaine students were paid minimally $15 per hour, they would be making comparable wages to these and other public servants. UMaine students should not have a minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage because they do not perform work that would necessitate such high pay.
Considering how student wages are not only derived from the tuition money of all students, but also from the tax dollars of Maine citizens, student employees are fortunate to even have employment. Students should not expect to have all living expenses paid for by a college job generously provided by their university. Minimum wage jobs are just not designed to pay for all living expenses. The expectation is that as an individual gains greater credentials and experience, they will be promoted to better, higher paying careers.
Student employees should be more frugal instead of expecting starter campus jobs to provide for all living expenses. If students feel that they need more money, they should consider cutting costs. For example, students could get a second or better paying part-time job. Students could reduce their tuition costs by attending in-state colleges instead of going out of state. Students could reduce living expenses by attending a local college and living at home, if possible. Instead of complaining about their pay, student workers should try to minimize their own collegiate expenses.
Additionally, student working conditions are not as atrocious as these protestors claim. One student employee I talked to (who wished to remain anonymous) reported the opposite of being understaffed: she rarely has to perform duties for her job, and instead uses her work time to mostly work on homework. Another student I talked to (again, anonymous) has worked two on-campus jobs now, and stated that he also occasionally had free time, was respected and did not feel underappreciated. Student employment is really not that bad, and most employers are not understaffed.
UMaine student employees do not deserve higher pay than the state minimum wage. Likewise, student working conditions are not as awful as some of these protestors claim. While it is commendable that students expressed their freedom of speech and assembly to protest for their rights, campus jobs are intended to be a way to help students out through experience and supplemental cash flow, not as a solution to pay for all their living expenses. Student employment and minimum wage jobs are not designed to provide a livable wage.