With an average wage of $8.50 per hour, a UW-Madison student would need to work 38 hours per week to pay for in-state tuition.
Student workers and community members addressed this disparity Thursday in a Fight for $15 panel, part of a national campaign aiming to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and aid in union development for fast food chains and other low-wage sectors.
The event was sponsored by multiple student organizations including the Student Labor Action Coalition, American Federation of Teachers and The Workers' Rights Center.
Jennifer Epps-Addison, who works for Wisconsin Jobs Now, moderated six panelists who spoke about a diversity of reasons for why an increase in the minimum wage is important.
Epps-Addison said the movement’s purpose is not getting politicians to raise the minimum wage, but getting corporations to make the necessary changes themselves.
“The main goal is getting corporations, who are making billions of dollars in profit, to raise their minimum wage. It is the right thing to do, and the right thing for our economy,” Epps-Addison said.
Associated Students of Madison member Megan Phillips said her primary concern was the affordability of education for students.
“Raising wages for working students is a feasible way for students to be able to pay back the cost of their education, especially in light of the tuition increases,” Phillips said.
Student employee Samuel Park spoke about the correlation between increasing minimum wage for student workers and further academic opportunities and success, especially for students from lower income families.
“There are things like food and health care that many people see as a necessary part of life that many of us just don’t have access to,” Park said. “If you raise minimum wage, that provides people with more of a chance of getting a higher education.”
State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, has attended every Fight for $15 strike in Wisconsin. Sargent said she was able to graduate from UW-Madison without any student debt, and that though she wants to be proud of the community and state she grew up in and now represents, there is a lot to be embarrassed about.
“I don’t want my kids to grow up and be weighed down by student debt. I don’t want the girlfriends and partners of my sons to get paid less just because they don’t have a penis on their bodies,” Sargent said.
Epps-Addison urged all in attendance to go to the “biggest strike in the movement’s history” on Wednesday, April 15. There will be strikes throughout the country and in every continent except for Antarctica, she said.
“We want to let people know that we will not sit back and let things continue down this path,” Epps-Addison said. “Come show your support and bring everyone you know.”