The current student workers’ minimum wage on the University of Wisconsin campus is slightly more than $10 per hour and will be partially raised to $12 starting in July. Even with a $2 increase, however, the minimum wage is still atrociously low.

I used to think that maybe the university was not financially capable of raising the student wage, but I was wrong. Serving as the secretary for the Student Services Finance Committee, I have direct access to the budget proposals and reports from major student employers funded by the segregated fees on campus, like UHS, the Union and Rec Well. I am shocked by the inefficiency of fund allocation and the unwillingness among some school administrators to raise the minimum wage in order to care for student workers.

After being elected as the Student Workers’ Rights Committee chair, I heard even more appalling accounts of the mistreatment and low wages of student workers.

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Students working as RAs cannot go home until Dec. 23 at noon if they wish to receive their full stipend. Student dishwashers at dining halls receive only $11 per hour while working in a moist and uncomfortable environment. Managers completely disregard students’ privacy and schedules. Students employed at the Wisconsin Union have said they are verbally abused by their bosses. And the list goes on — it is ridiculous, shameful and wrong.

But students have a chance to change the course of conditions for student employees. The Associated Students of Madison voted to hold a referendum to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The ballot will be sent to student emails on March 28, and the poll will be open from March 28 to March 30.

ASM does not have total control over minimum wage on campus, but if the referendum passes, SSFC would request student employers funded by segregated fees, such as the Wisconsin Union, Rec Well and UHS, to adopt a $12.50 per hour minimum wage starting in the 2024 fiscal year. Over the following three years, ASM would request these employers to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, along with a formal recommendation for all other campus student hourly employers to follow suit.

Students deserve a living wage. For years, the university has misled us, with excuses that raising student wages would cause a dramatic rise in segregated fees and tuition. But the reality is that a 20% rise in student wage caused a 2% to 4% rise in spending, according to proposed budgets from UHS, Rec Well and the Wisconsin Union. Additionally, some student employers’ units have hired more permanent staff, which is more expensive. When some of those administrators got tired of the lies, they slandered student government leaders as being radical. 

I find these practices deeply insulting on a personal and intellectual level. I am Chinese, and I do not have any optimistic illusion of a communist economy — I thus believe in the market economy.

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But what some university administrators are doing now does not represent the idea of a market economy. Instead, it represents one that is more autocratic. This system will not work in a free society or for UW, where a high job turnover rate transpires to more costs that are ultimately footed by students.

The sad reality is that we need resounding and overwhelming support to achieve basic human decency from student employers and a functioning market economy on campus. It is time to end all the lies and treat students with fairness and dignity. It is time for a living wage.

Please vote yes for the referendum on raising student wages to $15 per hour to bring livable wages for students a step closer to reality.

Steven Shi ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in economics, political science and international studies. He serves as the Secretary of the Student Services Finance Committee and as a Student Transportation Board Representative for Associated Students of Madison. Shi is also the chair for the Student Workers’ Rights Committee.