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On campus, wage change hardly felt

BY AMANDA MARKOWITZ

Published October 9, 2006

When the minimum wage for Michigan workers jumped to $6.95 an hour on Oct. 1, few employees on and near campus were even aware of the change.

The hike is the result of a new law that the state Legislature passed last March under pressure from interest groups, some of which were student-led.

Many locally owned businesses, including Zingerman's and Shaman Drum Book Shop, already have starting wages above $6.95, so the hike didn't change much for most student employees.

Some students were not affected by virtue of their position: the new minimum wage does not apply to waiters and waitresses.

Mechanical Engineering junior Bryan Kobie works at Borders Books and Music in downtown Ann Arbor. Kobie works at the information desk and helps customers locate books throughout the store. He earns $7.25 an hour, which is already higher than the new wage. He was aware of the increase but said that Borders employees were not affected. Borders employees used to be a part of a union, which raised wages.

Other student employees will start to find more money in their pockets because of the new law.

The People's Food Cooperative, a natural foods store and cafe at 216 N. 4th Ave., already pays above the new required wage but plans to increase its wages by the beginning of next year.

"We always stay a dollar above minimum wage at least," said Julie Sverid, human resource director for the co-op.

Sverid said the co-op won't be able to pay $7.95 but will definitely pay no less than $7.50. The co-op currently pays $7.40 per hour to entry-level employees, typically students in their twenties with previous job experience.

Sverid said the company does not plan to cut labor to cover the wage hike.

"We do not lay people off," Sverid said. "I don't think we ever have."

Good Time Charley's owner Rick Buhr said he employs mostly University students. Although the new law does not require him to increase wages for his wait staff, he said workers still in training are paid minimum wage, and the $1.80 increase was "pretty massive" for the bar and restaurant.

"This puts a lot more pressure on people to perform immediately - we cannot take as much time (training) them as in the past," he said.

Students working at Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop at 304 State Street earn $6.50 an hour for scoopers and $7.50 for shift leaders. Matt Arthur, who owns the ice cream store as well as Surf City Squeeze in Briarwood Mall, said he will raise pay accordingly. He does not plan to cut labor.

"I have to take care of customers, and I will be keeping labor to give the best customer service possible," Arthur said.

Dave Reid, the University's director of human resources communications, said the impact of the increase on University employees will be minimal.

Slightly more than 500 temporary and student employees working at the University's Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses will get a raise to match the new minimum wage.

"As far as I know no labor was cut, but individual departments make decisions themselves for staffing needs," he said.

Rebecca Blank, dean of the Ford School of Public Policy, said the main reason for this increase is not to benefit young workers.

"Many university students have been working at jobs well above minimum wage already," she said. "The main reason for this increase is to support low-wage workers and provide full-time workers, particularly adults trying to raise a family, with economic stability."

Wage in breif

Sunday, Oct. 1 was the first of the three minimum wage increases that the state Legislature passed last March, bumping the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.95. On July 1 of next year it will increase to $7.15 per hour and on July 1, 2008 it will be raised to $7.40.

The legislation also established a minimum wage for working youths. Employees under 18 will receive $5.91 an hour or 85 percent of the new wage.


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