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If the Young Democratic Socialists of America get their way, University of Michigan student employees across campus might be getting a raise. The U-M chapter of YSDA, a student organization  which purports to “extend democracy into all facets of life,” launched a petition for a University-wide $15 minimum wage at the beginning of January. The petition has reached over 500 Ann Arbor and University community members as of Thursday.

LSA senior Noah Streng, YDSA president, said the Graduate Employees’ Organization and the Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America have pledged their support for the petition. Streng said he believes the University has the resources to support a $15 minimum wage. 

“This is a matter of priorities, not resources,” Streng said. “We’re demanding that the University stop running our university as a corporation and start investing in students and workers and giving them the dignity that they deserve.”

Though the Board of Regents approved a $15 starting wage for all non-temporary workers in the 2022 budget, the petition demands the administration extend the $15 minimum wage to all employees, including student and temporary workers. The petition says student workers are not sufficiently compensated amid increasing costs of living and rising tuition. It argues current wages are unfair to students who come from marginalized backgrounds, which goes against the values the Board of Regents hold. The petition demands the University utilize its $17 billion endowment to ensure a $15 minimum wage by the fiscal year 2023 for all University employees.

Streng said student workers are highly involved in University operations, and he feels they are underpaid, especially with rising living costs.

“We believe that without students working in the dorms, in the dining halls, as athletes or anywhere else on campus, operations would come to a grinding halt,” Streng said. “For the value we produce for the University, we don’t feel that we are substantially compensated … amid an ongoing pandemic, and with the increasing costs of living in Ann Arbor.”

LSA freshman Mateo Diaz is a work-study student and said 4,000 student workers who are employed in various positions like housing, dining and recreational sports are essential to the University functioning.

“Chances are if you’re interacting with someone just on a day-to-day basis in the Union, it’s probably a student worker,” Diaz said. “I would say that without student workers, things would not be functioning the way that they are.”

Diaz said he feels student staff receive less recognition than non-student staff at times. He said all staff should be appreciated and held to equal regard as their non-student counterparts.

“Non-student staff play just as important a role, but student staff definitely do get a little bit less of the spotlight because of that word ‘student’,” Diaz said. “I feel like we definitely appreciate the staff, and I hope that we appreciate the staff a lot. But sometimes it does feel like student staff gets a little bit less of a spotlight when talking about University employees as a whole.” 

LSA senior Kayan Waikar is a Student Manager at the East Quad Blue Cafe. He said he signed  the petition because he believes the contribution of student workers warrants a higher wage. 

“I think student workers deserve to be paid more, considering how essential they are to the massive operation that this school is,” Waikar said. “Especially considering student workers have to balance classes, work, sleep and a social life, which can be really tough.”

When asked about whether there are other parts of student employment he thinks students should be campaigning for, Waikar said the issue of minimum wage should be at the top of the University’s agenda.

Diaz said that if the petition goes through, he would be less anxious about unplanned expenses.

“It would just make it easier to not have to worry as much if I need to buy something,” Diaz said. “I’m not quite paycheck to paycheck, but it would definitely be easier to not have to think twice about ‘Maybe I should save up for like a week or two to make sure I have enough left’.”

Diaz also said he does not believe raising the minimum wage for students to match the non-temporary staff starting wage would cause a serious conflict between student workers and staff.

“I don’t think that all workers getting paid the same starting wage should affect student-staff relationships,” Diaz said. “If it does, that’s more so if staff are upset at (all workers) getting paid the same but (staff) are doing more work and should also be paid more.”

LSA senior Tiana Covington is currently working two jobs and believes she would benefit from the petition if it goes through.

“I would gladly sign (the petition)in a heartbeat,” Covington said. “Besides the fact that I’m on work-study, I’m also an out-of-state student as well as a low-income student. As a freshman, I was working just under the number of hours that would qualify me for full-time worker status while trying to take classes, just so I (can) live comfortably and take care of myself.”

Covington added she took on extra shifts to earn bonus pay, which cut into her schedule even more. She said the petition can bring a lot of student workers much-needed time off between work, school and social life.

“If this were to succeed, I can see one of the quick positives being the number of people who will be able to breathe a bit better because they won’t have to work or struggle as hard as they have had to,” Covington said.

With the appointment of interim president Mary Sue Coleman, Streng said he hopes she will  use the University’s $17 billion endowment to support low-income student employees.

“We hope that President Coleman will prioritize making our university more accessible to low-income students by utilizing our endowment to support low-income workers and (helping to) make our university community more inclusive to those who are low-income,” Streng said.

An article published in the Michigan Journal of Economics contends “a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour will unintentionally hurt a tremendous number of workers throughout the country and will have detrimental effects on the economy.” 

The article also claims businesses will have to lay off workers, cut their hours or raise the prices of their products, none of which is desirable for the people who fight for a $15 starting wage.

Streng pointed out many areas — such as Seattle and New York City — across the United States have seen a $15 minimum wage that did not cause serious problems.

“We have seen throughout the country in all areas, wherever a $15 minimum wage has been implemented, these concerns have not (become a reality),” Streng said.

Streng said there is a possibility higher wages may incentivize employers to hire fewer employees. He said student workers should unionize to protect their wages.

“That is a huge problem and… a great way to address that would be giving student workers the ability to organize via union to protect their rights… and protect themselves from being fired by employers who would want to deprive them of their ability to work if they don’t want to pay them a living wage,” Streng said.

Streng shared other ways the YDSA is campaigning for a University-wide $15 minimum wage, including letter-writing campaigns, raising awareness and holding conversations with student workers.

Streng said he hopes to discuss issues student workers are concerned about at an event co-sponsored by LSA Student Government and the U-M YDSA chapter this Saturday. 

“We are hoping to speak with student workers from all three campuses to talk about workplace issues in ways we can empower one another to improve wages on campuses and workers rights more broadly,” Streng said.

Daily Staff Reporter Joey Lin can be reached at joeyylin@umich.edu.