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Friday, April 19, 2024
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New student pay rates raise questions of job inequality among UW student jobs and beyond

At the end of August, University Housing and the Wisconsin Union announced a new minimum wage of $15 for all employees, leaving some employees wondering if all those jobs deserve to be equal in pay, while others ponder why they earn less.

As the semester shifts into gear, University of Wisconsin-Madison students are working hard to try to find that ideal balance between their academic goals, social lives and for many, a work schedule.

Students choose to work during the semester for a variety of reasons, including extra spending money or to save money. For many students, however, that extra income is an important part of being able to afford college, relying on that income to support themselves every month.

“I work to cover any necessary expenses and to remove some guilt from making unnecessary purchases,” said Jacob Hansen, a student shift lead at Carson’s market.

Some students at UW choose to seek employment within the university, be it for convenience of location, schedule flexibility or for career advancement in a field of interest. With a university of its size, however, UW-Madison offers a plethora of jobs across different divisions, departments and schools. 

However, with this variety, there can be significant disparities in pay, hours and flexibility based on where a student ends up working.

My work schedule is very flexible purely because of the cooperation between staff to pick up and trade each other’s shifts,” said Daniel Dienhart, speaking of his latest employment as a RecWell Manager at the Nicholas Recreation Center.

Dienhart is a senior studying Industrial Engineering, and has worked five different university student jobs over his years at UW-Madison.

Shift flexibility is important to students, who must also dedicate time to their studies. 

“Shifts for being a Delivery Robot Coordinator were nearly impossible to get picked up due to Gordon’s being so consistently understaffed,” said Dienhart of his previous employment at Gordon Dining and Event Center. “Lots of employees no-called [or] no-showed on a regular basis, so I tried to work my scheduled shifts and that was it."

Dienhart’s testaments of strict scheduling and difficulty adjusting schedules were shared by other housing employees who spoke with The Daily Cardinal.

“On weeks where I work weekends [which is every other week], I’m averaging around 25 hours a week … When I was interviewed for the position, I was told I’d be working a maximum of 17,” said Hailey Sewell, who works as a Student Shift Lead at Liz’s Market.

Hansen, who works the same position just down the road at Carson’s Market, said he works only 12 hours a week.

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“We’re all overworked, so when someone takes a day off we all get slammed [in terms of workload], which makes everyone else want to take a day off which just creates a constant cycle of not having enough people because people are getting overwhelmed, tired and exhausted,” added Sewell.

There is no state-set minimum wage in Wisconsin, meaning the minimum wage defaults to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. The campus minimum for student hourly employees is set at $10 an hour. Few jobs exist on campus at that pay rate, with a considerable amount of student jobs starting at $12. As of recently, some students are seeing pay raises to $15 an hour. 

At the end of August, University Housing and the Wisconsin Union raised starting wages to $15 an hour — the highest widely-available starting wage on campus. Sewell and Hansen in Housing, and Dienhart in RecWell all make $15 or more, and are satisfied with their wages.

Sewell pointed out an issue, however, with full-time staff wages that is causing Liz’s Market problems. Rec Well’s starting wages, however, tend to be around $12.

“We don’t have enough full time staff working. We make a dollar less than full time staff,” said Sewell. “They only get one day off a week, they work up to 48 hours a week and I wouldn’t want to work that job with their salary. They really need to get paid more, it would make our job easier.”

Many student workers who spoke to The Daily Cardinal felt there was a disparity between workload and difficulty of student jobs — and how that relates to their pay.

There’s absolutely inequality in student jobs across campus, in relation to workload and difficulty and how that reflects in pay,” said Hansen. 

“On the standpoint that we’re standing and working for our many hour shifts and there’s housing desk workers sitting [who earn the same], that alone should be a reason to give us higher pay. Some of them have time to do homework on shifts, and I normally feel wrong taking my 15 minute breaks,” Hansen continued.

“I think all University Housing/Dining jobs should get $15 an hour,” said one student peer advisor at the Cross College Advising Service (CCAS), who preferred to stay anonymous. “I ideally would like $15 an hour, but I don't think it would be fair to everyone though, because I work limited days and hours and don’t ever have to do more than I want.”

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Ian Wilder

Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.

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