In just over a week, an online petition demanding minimum wage for Northern Arizona University student workers has received 1,000 signatures.
Deja Berkstresser, a junior psychology major at NAU, started the petition on Change.org with several of her colleagues in order to help the students who are earning as little as $8.50 an hour with their campus jobs – more than two dollars less than the state minimum wage.
As of Jan. 1, 2019, Arizona minimum wage is set at $11, while the Flagstaff minimum wage is at $12, with the next increase – to $13 an hour and $12 an hour, respectively – scheduled to occur Jan. 1, 2020. The hourly cash rate for tipped employees is also scheduled to increase in 2020, from $9 per hour to $10. Flagstaff's minimum wage is planned to reach $15.50 by 2022.
NAU administrators have noted previously that student wages are still well above the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, though.
As a manager for student connectivity at the university union, Berkstresser is making more than many of her colleagues – $10.25 an hour – but is still earning less than city and state minimum wages, making it difficult to live in Flagstaff.
“Minimum wage keeps going up, but ours doesn’t. If it keeps going up, we’re going to be making less and less compared to everyone else,” she said. “We work for the university, so they work around our schedules more than a regular job would, but I don’t think that gives them the right to pay us less than minimum wage for the work we do.”
NAU spokesperson Kim Ott said the benefits for student jobs include this flexibility of work hours and academic focus, as well as convenience and future employment opportunities after students graduate.
Nevertheless, responses to the petition reveal that late hours and strenuous tasks are a significant part of a student workers’ responsibilities. For those wanting to work more, Berkstresser said their hours are capped at an average of 29 a week, making it difficult for students to earn the money needed to support themselves without taking on a second job.
“I remember not eating for 2 weeks because I had to pay rent and I was working the most they would allow students to work,” wrote Sandra Caldwell.
Elizabeth Beck commented that she worked for NAU for four years and, though she enjoyed her work, she had to maintain a second job to pay her expenses.
“Students deserve a livable wage,” she wrote.
According to the university, the intent of student employment opportunities is “to assist students in meeting some of their educational expenses.”
Possibly due to this emphasis on partial expenses, NAU ranks the worst for student wages among Arizona’s public universities.
“Today, student workers make between $8.50 and more than $20.00 an hour, and they are exempt from FICA. More than 50% earn between $9.00 and $11.00 an hour,” Ott said.
At Arizona State University, the student wage scale starts at $10.00 for simple tasks requiring no previous experience, and does not exceed $50 an hour for the most technical positions.
The University of Arizona’s lowest tier of student workers – positions requiring no previous experience – have an $11 to $15.50 an hour pay range. Wages do not exceed $28 an hours for students with duties similar to those of a graduate assistant. Though the university previously had an even lower tier, its website reveals this group was retired as of Jan. 1, 2013.
Ott said that major updates were made to the NAU student employment program in the last year to ensure pay rates are accurate to the technicality and responsibility of the jobs. The university is continuing to review its student worker positions and pay rates.
After the petition gains even more signatures, Berkstresser and her colleagues plan to present it to NAU administrators and the Arizona Board of Regents in an attempt to secure minimum wage for student workers in Flagstaff.
The petition, named “Demand minimum wage for NAU student workers!” can be viewed and signed at www.change.org.