The Union of Students, which is the student governance organization, has recently started an initiative to raise student worker pay at the University of Alaska. Student wages have not increased since 2011, while the State of Alaska minimum wage has increased by $2.05 since that time.

"They make $1.30 below minimum wage," USUAA President Alec Burris said. "We haven't seen something quite like a memo sent up to one of the vice chancellors until now."

Earlier this year a group of student workers wrote a letter to one of the vice chancellors asking for a pay increase. Currently, the minimum wage for students at the university level is at $8.50 an hour. The state minimum wage is $9.80 an hour, with another small bump coming at the start of 2018.

"The resolution has been forwarded to the University of Alaska system office where several statewide councils will review and discuss the resolution," Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bruce Schultz said, "Ultimately, the decision to increase wages for student workers resides at the statewide level."

Schultz also noted that the University of Alaska is exempt from state minimum wage law. The University, however, does follow federal minimum wage law.

"While we are exempt from state minimum wage law, we do follow federal minimum wage law," UAA's director of Human Resource Services Ron Kamahele said, "Approximately two-thirds of UAA's student workers are paid above Alaska's minimum wage, which, of course, is higher than the federal minimum wage."

UAA Student Government says while there is a tier of pay scales representing a student's skills and training, the low minimum wage pay affects a lot of incoming freshmen and foreign students.

"The foreign students here can only work on campus," Burris said. "We also find a lot of freshmen looking for work elsewhere. Research says that students who work on campus stay at the University and more than likely graduate from that University."

Burris says some of the wages are so low, many students are having a hard time finding food.

"The Diversity Inclusion Action Plan and Research that was done in it found that 30 percent of our students are food insecure," Burris said. "So, they don't know where they are going to get their next meal. We're not asking for $15 an hour or anything ridiculous. We're asking simply that our students make the minimum wage." 

Burris points out that since the 2011-2012 academic year, the cost of an undergraduate credit increased by $48 or 32 percent. USUAA has prepared a financial impact including four different scenarios if the University of Alaska were to choose to raise student worker pay using student pay and hours worked averages: 

  • Current Average: $10.60 per hour average x 33.25 hours per pay period average x 762 employees = $268,534 per pay period 
  • Increase of $0.50: $11.10 per hour average x 33.25 hours per pay period average x 762 employees = $281,203 per pay period (increase of $12,669) 
  • Increase of $1.00: $11.60 per hour average x 33.25 hours per pay period average x 762 employees = $293,872 per pay period (increase of $25,338) 
  • Increase $1.30: $11.90 per hour average x 33.25 hours per pay period average x 762 employees = $301,474 per pay period (increase of $30,062)

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