While New York State enacted a $15 minimum wage in 2016, the policy allows for regions of the state to raise the minimum wage gradually, giving businesses time to adjust. (New York State Government website). Although New York City has an established $15 wage, other regions, including Dutchess County, are still catching up. While Vassar has thus far followed the region’s minimum wage increase of $12.50 for student employees of the College and committed to an eventual $15 rate for student employees, students are pushing for the College to enact a faster increase to $15 for student employees. VSA Senators pushing for a $15 wage for students argue that the current wage of $12.50 makes it difficult for work-study-eligible students to make their full $3,000 yearly allotment.
VSA Senators Joe Mangan ’23 and Julián Aguilar ’23 introduced a piece of legislation called “Raise the Wage” in the VSA on Oct. 15. The bill outlines a plan for the College to expedite the wage increase for Vassar student workers. While the College supports a gradual increase to raise the student employment wage to $15, the College and VSA representatives disagree on the timeline. The legislation also includes a provision calling for a commitment from the College to adjust the work study amounts to account for rising living expenses of students and a better integration of the work study calendar with the academic school year. Although Aguilar and Mangan advocate for a full $15 wage by the 2023 fiscal year, Vice President of Information Technology and Human Resources Carlos Garcia indicated the College’s goal is to be at $15 by Fall 2024.
Mangan and Aguilar explained that their goal is to make sure all students on financial aid meet the work-study allotments included in their financial aid packages. Both VSA representatives and the College agree that raising the wage would not affect the actual amount of money students receive in their financial aid packages, but instead allow students to accumulate the full allotment with fewer weekly hours. Mangan and Aguilar provided VSA data showing that during the 2021-22 academic year, only 36 percent of work-study-eligible student workers met over 90 percent of their allotment.
“[Raising the student employment wage to $15] would be a step forward in ensuring that one hundred percent of student financial need is, in fact, met by the College. Furthermore, raising the wage means students can spend fewer hours working to achieve their entire allotment,” explained Mangan and Aguilar in a joint response for the Miscellany News. “This assists in the achievement of the College’s wellness goals and ensures students can focus on being students, not laborers for the College,” they added.
Garcia recognized some students and supervisors experience confusion regarding the number of hours students can work and when students can begin working in the semester, two problems he thinks lead students to miss their full work-study allotment. “We hope to work directly with VSA to get feedback about the communications and processes surrounding student employment so as to clear up confusion and equip both students and supervisors in achieving their goals,” he explained.
After meeting with members of the College’s administration in past weeks, Aguilar and Mangan have negotiated a tentative agreement to pay student workers a $15 wage by Fall 2024. The negotiated proposal with administration includes a wage for Spring 2022 from $12.50 to $13.20, and plans to survey students and their supervisors who fail to earn a significant amount of their allotment. “Because wage increases impact each job and many Vassar operations differently, we have committed to continued discussions with VSA both about the impact of wage changes over time and about how to change the communications and processes surrounding student employment so as to reduce barriers to earning that students may experience,” Garcia explained.
Yet to Mangan and Aguilar, $15 by 2024 is not soon enough. “While we are thankful for the administration’s openness to the issue, we believe this proposal falls short of where we think it should be and does not ensure that students meet their allotment. We also recognize that this negotiated proposal is unpopular in the Student Labor Committee and would likely not pass,” stated Mangan and Aguilar. They explained that they will focus on the passage of their legislation and continue discussions with administration to see student needs are met. “We still find immense value and opportunity for progress in the condition of student employment in [Raise the Wage legislation],” they added.
The push for a $15 minimum wage is part of a VSA-coordinated effort to address various student employment issues. This past summer, the VSA created a Chair and Committee on Student Labor with elected student worker representatives. Mangan and Aguilar explained that the legislation to increase student wages will be voted on in the VSA as a package that includes legislation that would create a stipend to pay all of VSA. They explained, “Ultimately, these pieces of legislation are a step forward for the VSA in reconnecting with and advocating on behalf of students. Following last semester and this past summer’s revamp of the governing documents of the VSA, we are working towards holding the VSA accountable towards its mission of representing students and resolving the challenges presented to us.”