In a push for a $15 an hour minimum wage for student workers, the Associated Students of Portland State Student Fee Committee will be sending a separate student fee budget proposal to the Board of Trustees for consideration instead of a unified budget proposal with President Rahmat Soureshi.
The president’s budget proposal, on the other hand, will not allocate $15 an hour wages for student workers. The two budget proposals will now be sent to the Board for discussion on May 3 where they will make a final recommendation. If the recommendation is over a 5% increase, the budget will be subject to approval by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
“An immediate increase to $15 an hour for all students and employees earning minimum wage would cause compression issues so others would need their salaries increased,” said Associate Vice President for University Communications Christopher Broderick. “The result would total several million dollars that the university does not have…raising the minimum wage on campus to $15 would compound what is already a significant budget shortfall that we face in 2019–20.”
Due to the requirements of the Oregon Pay Equity Act, if the SFC’s proposal were passed, PSU would have to pay all student workers across campus the same wage, even those who are not employed by a student fee-funded area.
The increase could have statewide implications, explained SFC Vice Chair Jose Rojas-Fallas.
“[The president] explained to us that when they negotiate with unions, they negotiate with the state union, so we’re not only talking about PSU [staff] unions—we’re talking about everybody,” Rojas-Fallas said. “So if there were to see an increase here, it would have to be statewide.”
The SFC sent a letter to the president and Board members outlining their decision to send a separate student fee budget to the Board knowing the broader implications of the proposal.
The letter stated: “We believe that increasing student wages to a livable level of $15 an hour does not hinge on the relative wages of professional staff. Our capacity to provide a better quality of life to our students should not be hindered by others’ perceived unfairness.”
“We are continuing to support the idea of increasing FFA student workers wages to $15 an hour because we believe it to be a worthy cause to consider, with all facts known,” the letter continued.
The SFC budget allocates money for student fee-funded areas such as resource centers, 5th Avenue Cinema, the student sustainability center and student media. The SFC’s budget proposal would increase the student fee by $30, $8.40 of which would be allocated to increase student worker wages to $15 an hour.
“Ultimately what’s more frustrating for me is that [the school] is going to potentially propose a fee increase upwards of 12–14%,” Thompson said. “Costs in the city are going up, and the majority of students don’t really have the means to be going to college.
The university does have a plan for increasing student wages over time in compliance with the state’s minimum wage law. Starting July 1, PSU will pay a minimum wage of $12.50, which will increase to $13.25 the following July and then up to $14.75 in 2022.
“I think that if they asked the students for their priorities at all for what they would be funding, this would be one of the things that people would support,” SFC Chair Elliot Thompson said. “I think people would accept an increase in their tuition in an effort to make sure that everyone who works here, especially their peers, are able to pay for school without having to bust their ass working two or three jobs.”