On January 1, 2016 all student-employees across the Seattle College District (SCD) will get a raise. The adjustment from eleven to thirteen dollars will adhere to the guidelines set forth by Seattle’s new minimum wage law, and roughly 215 student employees will benefit from the minor windfall of the bonus. But the district’s schedule to reach fifteen dollars by January 1, 2017 threatens to eliminate some student services in order to accommodate the extra financial burden.
The fight for fifteen in the SCD started in November 2014. Ty Pethe, President of Local 304 Washington State Federation of Employees, first proposed a raise for student employees in a Board of Trustees meeting.
“I told them that if they didn’t [raise the minimum wage] they wouldn’t have any employees,” said Pethe.
For many student employees, fifteen dollars an hour seems like a bright light at the end of a part-time employment money tunnel. That light is a distraction. Currently the future is ambiguous—there remains a slew of complicated issues looming like a darkening rain front lumbering across the Puget Sound.
In total it took six months for the SCD to release a human resources memo announcing the new progression in compensation, which aimed to adjust student salaries to match the substantially elevated cost of living in Seattle.
This initial raise to thirteen is uncomplicated and seamless. But the move to fifteen comes packed with a litany of potential pitfalls: cutting high-cost/low-enrollment classes, less maintenance coverage from facilities staff and less face time with faculty counselors in the advising center. Furthermore, the impacts of this transition are cast in a shadow of doubt.
“Right now we’re in the ‘what that looks like phase’ and no
one has a good idea,” said Pethe. Concerning the move to hourly staff advisors, he said, “One thing that a lot of colleges have done, that our college district has not done, is change from having faculty counselors to having staff counselors. Almost every other college has moved from those faculty counselors to those advisors, who are forty-hour a week classified hourly staff. They are cheaper in hourly work rates, and they’re more accessible to students.”
Another cut could be limiting tutor-like resources both in terms of total employees and overall hours worked. Many student employees and tutors for students are paid through the Student & Activities Budget. Funding allocation is coordinated by the Board of Trustees and the Associated Student Council’s Executive of Finance, Safira Ezani. She will lead her own Student & Activities Budget subcommittee to determine the specifics of the budget and then submit her subcommittee’s proposal to the Board of Trustees.
“We will consider how many people we can actually hire in the Student Writing Center and Math Tutoring Center,” said Safira Ezani. “We will have to evaluate that process.”
And though student employees will be paid more, they will also have to be re-trained and given additional responsibilities. Hypothetically speaking, a student will have to be more qualified to work in the cafeteria. There will be no free lunch for anybody.
“They can make it up to that thirteen dollar mark,” said Pethe. “That’s easy. But to go to fifteen, workers will have to be promoted up to a higher position or to another position that has similar job duties.”
The next Collective Bargaining Agreement between the SCD and the Washington State Federation of Employees will yield more specific details about the impacts of the minimum wage increase. Though the fight for fifteen seems to be settled, students may face future battles to retain a quality education.
By Jack Pappin