The Washington Post: Students take up the Fight for $15 for another group: Themselves

Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Photo courtesy of Unitarian Universalist Service Committee/Flickr

From The Washington Post:

by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Lydia DePillis

Over the past few years, thousands of students have waved picket signs and chanted slogans in support of raising the minimum wage for people who toil in fast-food restaurants and other low-paid professions. Now that advocacy has expanded to another class of worker: college-goers themselves.

Students at nearly 20 schools, including the University of Maryland at College Park, Columbia University, Northeastern University and San Francisco State University, are mounting campaigns demanding better pay for part-time work. The University of Washington's recent decision to raise its wage floor to $15 an hour has encouraged student leaders elsewhere — but many are running into administrators reluctant to fatten payrolls as they struggle to contain costs.

The campaigns are largely independent of national labor organizations, such as the union-backed Fight for $15 movement that has helped boost minimum wages in a number of cities, but they share the aim of providing workers with enough to pay the bills.

"Students are inspired by fast-food workers speaking out, home-care workers speaking out, their adjunct professors speaking out," said Beth Huang, a coordinator for the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), an initiative of a labor union and foundation-funded group called Jobs with Justice. "Tuition, housing, textbooks are increasing in price while student wages have largely stayed stagnant."

The call for higher wages also comes at a time when many students who provide services for schools, such as graduate student teaching assistants and student athletes, have pushed to unionize -- with varying degrees of success. Previously, undergraduate student activism had focused more on improving conditions for campus staff.

"Students don't think of themselves as workers, even when they're working two part-time jobs to stave off mounting debt," said freelance writer George Joseph, who helped found a student group at Columbia University that is pushing the administration to raise wages to at least $15 an hour. "So I think that's part of the campaign, making students realize the value of their labor."

Forty percent of undergraduates attending college full time were employed in 2013, mostly in part-time jobs requiring less than 34 hours a week of work, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Just 8 percent of students work on campus, either directly for the school or through the federal work-study program.

Read the full article from The Washington Post.