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Students and campus union leaders reflect on student wage increase decision

Photo by Caleb Stewart | Staff Photographer

Starting July 1, 2022, changes regarding student worker pay, including a 75 cent increase to the campus minimum wage, took effect. With this decision, Drake joins a trend among employers of raising hourly wages following a worker shortage that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drake’s Human Resources Executive Director Maureen De Armond said the department determined a raise of the campus minimum wage was necessary following an assessment of student wages on campus. It also created a set of guidelines on student worker classifications and pay.

“There were a lot of different reasons and rationales that went into the decision to provide more structure to student wages and increase the floor/min wage,” De Armond said in an email. “There were too many different and varying practices across campus and departments – so the guidelines provide a standard framework and tool for analyzing student positions and assigning wages.”

The guidelines divide student workers into three groups with different ranges of compensation. According to the guidelines document, most student workers fall into group A, which allows managers to pay $8.00 to $10.00 per hour. 

Group B is for positions that require “advanced skills or ability, extensive training or experience and advanced knowledge,” with pay ranging from $10.50 to $13.50 per hour. Lastly, Group C is reserved for “positions performing research or instructional duties,” with pay set at $15 per hour. 

Other employers on campus and in the Drake neighborhood offer higher wages. The McDonald’s on Forest Avenue starts wages at $15 an hour. Drake’s dining contractor Sodexo declined to comment on their starting wage, but a cashier/server position listed on Handshake included a pay rate of $12 an hour. 

Iowa does not have a state minimum wage, but employers must follow the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour that was set in 2009. Sophomore Maddi Cave is from Illinois, where the minimum wage is $14 per hour. She was making $17.50 over the summer and was unaware of the student worker raise before returning to campus.

“I kept thinking like I’m going to be going back to Des Moines and making less than half of what I’m doing now to do like a way more difficult job,” Cave said.

Cave works as an assistant to the dean’s office in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she handles administrative tasks.

Sophomore Bailey Clipperton works both as an events building manager and on the general events crew. She’s heard parents refer to student jobs as ways to get “snack money,” but needs the money for her education.

“I actually pay my student loans with this money. I depend on this wage during the school year,” Clipperton said. “If I was still making that $7.25, I would not be able to afford my student loan payments this year. But now I can.”

The changes in pay were announced to managers in April 2022, two months after the founding of the Drake Student Workers Organizing Committee. Drake SWOC, as it is known, is attempting to become a legally recognized union for student workers on campus.

Junior Carl Yaeger is the President of Drake SWOC. He thinks the 75-cent increase to campus minimum wage shows that the administration can’t be trusted to set policy for its workers.

“It’s insulting,” Yaeger said. “It communicates how incredibly out of touch they are with the economic reality of students. I mean…I’ve got a bunch of friends working two campus jobs already thinking, ‘Do I need a third to afford to go here?’”

SWOC is currently working on getting student workers to sign union cards through a form in their social media bios. If 30% of student workers sign cards, it would trigger an election run by the National Labor Relations Board. 

If a majority of student workers vote for unionization, Drake would be legally required to negotiate with SWOC for a contract regarding student wages and working conditions. 

SWOC declined to provide the number of student workers that had signed their union cards.

Drake University Athletics advised a student athletics events worker not to speak with the Times-Delphic for this story.

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