Banners Demanding Minimum Wage Increase Appear On Campus
By Jacob Miller
On January 29th, banners appeared across the Rutgers New Brunswick campus proclaiming that Rutgers pays “poverty wages” and that students need to continue the “fight for 15.”
This development comes nearly two months after Rutgers President Robert Barchi sent an email to the student body announcing an increase in student wages:
“As another form of financial assistance for students, I am pleased to announce today an increase the minimum wage for student workers employed by Rutgers on all campuses from $8.44 per hour to $11 per hour, effective on January 1, 2018. This represents a 30 percent increase over the current hourly minimum for the State of New Jersey.”
The hike has affected more than 13,000 student workers, including students who are employed at the various Rutgers facilities (dining halls, administrative offices, libraries, etc.) and students on the Federal Work Study Program.
It should be noted that the increase was not an arbitrary act of altruism on the part of Barchi: As the Associated Press has reported, Rutgers students have been pressuring the school board for months, even interrupting a Board of Trustees meeting demanding more than the gratuitous 30 percent wage increase.
Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (RUSAS) — the group that organized the initial protests — is still not satisfied. Their Facebook page notes,
“While we won $11 this is only a partial victory, but it was accomplished through the sweat and tears of organizers coming together to fight the administration. Barchi through us a bone because he is TERRIFIED of our POWER, and he knows that we can shut this university down. If he was willing to give us $11 before, imagine what we'll get when we take back our streets.”
Their hope is that their revolutionary (and mildly violent) language will galvanize the Rutgers masses in anticipation of their February 23 March on Brower Commons.
However, Robert Barchi himself has pointed out that an increase to even $14 an hour would cost Rutgers close to four million dollars, and that there is a “philosophical question” as to where to direct future funds since they could be directed to need-based funds instead of student employment.
While the actions on the part of RUSAS have sparked valuable conversation about University wage policy, they've also sparked many questions and concerns. Student activists will need to meaningfully consider whether an increase in wages — at the expense of students who need access to other funds — will actually help Rutgers workers in the long run. They will also need to rethink their liberal use of histrionic rhetoric if they want to be viewed in a credible light.