Student Workers deserve a raise

Forrest Stewart, Staff Writer

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I am continually amazed by the diverse array of work that my fellow students engage in to improve Luther’s operations, academics, cleanliness, and general allure. From physics researchers studying phenomena I could never begin to understand, to eager tutors ready to assist fellow students, to ITS workers who maintain and enhance Luther’s digital environment, to my wonderful coworkers at Chips who spend their week pestering administrators for interviews so that you all can read about how our school works (or doesn’t) while sitting alone in the caf (to all who are reading this sentence alone in the caf: no shame). And finally, we of course cannot forget the honorable folks who stand stoically and unshaken while we ask one more time if we can please have another scoop of mac and cheese (no, we can’t).

I am also continually amazed by the fact that we do this valuable work for $7.25 an hour. While I and many others are lucky enough to love the work that we do, the compensation is plainly inadequate. With Luther’s comprehensive fee soaring well above $50,000, minimum wage barely makes a dent (especially when students are limited to 10 hours of work per week). This combination of rising costs alongside stagnant wages is fundamentally unsustainable. Already many students are seeking employment elsewhere in Decorah because of the higher wages and more available hours. 

This combination of rising costs alongside stagnant wages is fundamentally unsustainable. Already many students are seeking employment elsewhere in Decorah because of the higher wages and more available hours. This process will surely (and rightly) continue in the future and I hope for the sake of both campus functionality and these students that our administration soon recognizes and adequately compensates the true value of our labor.”

– Forrest Stewart (‘19)

This process will surely (and rightly) continue in the future and I hope for the sake of both campus functionality and these students that our administration soon recognizes and adequately compensates the true value of our labor.

Additionally, many students are not able to seek work elsewhere. For our international students without workers visas, work study is the only way for them to make money in the US. Thus, Luther enjoys a practical monopoly on the labor of these students and, no matter how far into the future stagnant wages persist, international students will be stuck providing the institution with increasingly devalued labor. This seems plainly exploitive.

Massachussets Institute of Technology’s wage calculator shows that a living wage for one person in Iowa is $10.89 per hour. This is the absolute minimum that Luther should be paying student workers and I encourage all of us—the 75% of Luther students who are employed on campus and our allies—to openly discuss and pressure the administration (including the incoming president) on this issue. As a senior, I especially urge first years and sophomores to be vocal about this issue.

As students it is clear to us that money is tight right now. The examples are numerous: it’s all but certain that we will fail to reach our CO2 reduction goals for 2020 (due to higher up-front costs of investments that will save money in the long term), donors provide money for blurfs while the budgets of academic departments are slashed, and students have recently watched many of our favorite professors leave or retire without being replaced. However, the issue of paying workers fairly is one that supersedes the ups and downs of any institution. Failure in this regard is a stain on the very foundation of the Luther that we love.

Remedying this injustice should be at the forefront of Luther’s financial planning—the school should make raising student workers’ wages to at least $11 an hour a priority. And, if it somehow goes unaddressed, the administration should expect to face the inevitable consequences of inadequate compensation: dissatisfaction, a smaller workforce, and, perhaps most impactful, worker organization.

In solidarity.

Signed,

Forrest Stewart (‘19)

Opinions expressed in columns and letters are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chips or organizations whith which the author(s) are associated.

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