OPINION: Why Do Skidmore Students Make Less Than Minimum Wage?
At the many coffee shops, boutiques, gas stations, and other businesses across Saratoga, Skidmore students can be found working. If you were to peek at their paystub, you would find that they make at least minimum wage, as you would expect. But come back up the hill to Skidmore College campus, and you will find a different story: all kinds of students, in different jobs, skill-levels, and positions, working for the school they attend, and all making less than minimum wage. How could this be possible?
There are three hourly pay rates that Skidmore students can receive: 9.75, 10, and 10.50. The first rate is normally for first-year students without work experience, the second for students with one year of experience in their jobs and the third for students who have been trained for two or more years. With each increase in pay comes an increase in responsibility and expected skill. A chart fully explaining pay rates, as well as other Student Worker information, can be found here.
At first glance much of this feels reasonable, except that the minimum wage in New York State in 11.10 per hour. It is not as though these student jobs are so easy that they should merit less pay; the students here working in the Dining Hall, Burgess, and Spa have virtually identical responsibilities to workers in off-campus food service. Many of the other jobs require specialized experience which must be gained on the student’s own time, which doesn’t seem like a fair basis to underpay them. This is, of course, all legal practice for the college; students are standard exemptions, along with tipped and seasonal employees, to Minimum Wage laws.
The rationale here is that the Student Workers are involved with Work-Study programs. According to the Student Employment Program Handbook, “Student employees are benefiting from: an employer willing to work with the students and their schedules; an employer offering part-time/occasional hours (not full-time work while they are attending classes); and learning work skills while practicing new skill sets during an undergraduate experience.” So, student employment should be more flexible than regular labor, and provides an educational skill-building experience not available in regular jobs. These perks are allegedly rich enough to justify lower pay.
The Dining Service is the largest student employment opportunity on campus, and their Student Employee Handbook extensively details their scheduling policies. If the school’s commitment to its work-study program were being taken seriously, you would expect the handbook to reflect its values of flexibility and specialized experience. In it, they clarify that events for classes and varsity sports can be scheduled around, but that clubs and intramural sports are not valid excuses to miss a shift.
The handbook explains that an absence can be excused with a medical note, but that “it is acceptable to work with a minor illness.” To my eyes, this does not appear even slightly more flexible than a normal food-service job. Additionally, it is hard to believe there are special skillset opportunities here not available in regular, higher-paying food service jobs. How seriously is Skidmore taking its commitment to enriching its Work-Study program to make up for the decreased wages?
In the past, Skidmore student minimum wage has risen “as a result of student activism, action taken by the SGA Senate, and the community’s attention to this issue,” explained the 2015 SGA President, Addison Bennet, when students successfully fought for a student minimum wage increase. The justifications for our deflated wage seem vapid, even if the college is legally allowed to pay us that little, and I think I should be paid at least the state-mandated minimum for the work I do. If the student body generally shares this sentiment, it stands to reason that the student minimum wage could be increased via collective student action, as it was in 2015. Creative thought matters, but so does getting paid.