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Student workers may not be included in federal minimum wage increase

Federal, state laws exempt universities from paying student workers minimum wage

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"Cardio is tough but nothing makes a student sweat quite like hoping they made enough money for rent." Illustration published on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.


The proposed federal minimum wage increase by the Biden administration in January might not apply to student workers under both federal and state law.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, universities are allowed to pay full-time students no less than 85% of the minimum wage. The Arizona Minimum Wage and Paid Time Off Initiative or Proposition 206, passed in 2016 and enacted in 2017, promised to raise the minimum wage over four years, but included a provision to exclude state agencies such as ASU.

With a federal minimum wage increase of $15 being discussed by lawmakers, some student workers are worried they won't see a boost to their income. The Senate Parliamentarian ruled a federal minimum wage increase could not be included in the next COVID relief bill under reconciliation rules Feb. 25, but Democrats are currently exploring other options to secure a raise.

Justine Hecht, a graduate student, teaching associate and student organizer for the United Campus Workers of Arizona, said it has been alienating for students to not hear the University's plan for addressing a possible rise in the federal minimum wage.

"By not making a commitment now to ensure that if the federal wage does increase, that ASU will follow suit in increasing our minimum wage, then it doesn’t really seem like they're actually committing to us," Hecht said.

The University did not respond to requests for comment.

Before it began to rise in 2017, Arizona's minimum wage was at $8.05, climbing to $12.15 at the beginning of 2021, a rise of over $4 in four years.

Currently, ASU student workers are eligible to make anywhere from $11.50 to $50 an hour, depending on how they're classified, with Level I being the lowest and Level IV being the highest classification. Student pay will rise by about 50 cents in July, but even with the raise, student workers in Level I can still be paid under Arizona's state-mandated minimum wage.

"(The University) should consult students about it and put their struggles into consideration," said Mona Hernandez, a freshman studying nursing and a community outreach and research aide for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. "For some students, their job at ASU is their only income and it makes it convenient for them to make money."

The Student Employment site reaffirms ASU's ability to pay students below Arizona's minimum wage, stating, "The voter-approved initiative, Prop. 206, provides an exemption to state agencies and does not require compliance with minimum wage offered."

Nick Aguilera, an ASU alumnus, said he worked as a leadership suite assistant at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2017 to 2020 and watched Arizona's minimum wage rise while his own pay did not.

"I got a couple raises, but as my raises were going up, they were only about 50 cents each and every year the minimum wage for Arizona kept going up as well," Aguilera said. "It just bothered me a lot because I should be getting paid minimum wage, but I wasn't."

Many student workers, especially those from out of state, had no idea the FLSA and Prop. 206 exempted the University from paying them the minimum wage.

"I was never aware of this act," said Hernandez, who moved to Arizona from California to attend ASU.

Arizona has the seventh highest minimum wage in the country, making it easier for the state to transition to a federal minimum wage of $15 if it were to be enacted.

"If the minimum wage is raised to that $15 mark, everyone would benefit, especially student workers, because most of the time they’re taking that job because they need the extra cash to get by," Aguilera said.

If a new federal minimum wage is implemented, a wage increase for student workers would still fall under the jurisdiction of the FLSA, which means it will be up to the state of Arizona and ASU to decide if student workers will see higher pay.

"We've seen this in the past, so it's something we want to be looking to to not make that same mistake again," Hecht said.


Reach the reporter at rpriest2@asu.edu and follow @reaganspriest on Twitter.

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