Just in time for Seattle's new minimum wage law to take effect, the UW announced yesterday it will raise the minimum wage of all non-student employees to $11 per hour, starting today. It hadn't been clear whether the university was going to comply with the new law, as it waited on a state supreme court decision regarding whether municipalities can legally dictate pay at bodies like the Port of Seattle (another public entity).
However, UW's decision to raise wages still leaves about 2,600 student employees making less than $11. Dozens of students, unionists, and socialists are pissed off about that, and they marched around campus today calling on the university to raise wages.
"The economy is back," said Salvador Castillo, a UW custodian, in a statement. "UW’s endowment continues to grow, and the administration is constructing new buildings. We know the administration has the money. It’s time they share the wealth with low-wage workers and students on campus."
"The call is for everyone to comply with the city ordinance," said Riddhi M. Neugebauer, a first-year political science graduate student.
In an interview with The Stranger, UW interim president Ana Mari Cauce said comply is "not the right word."
"How I would say it is," Cauce said, "we are going hand-in-hand. In other words, it is our intent to get to $15 on the same schedule as the city. I would not use the word comply."
Which seems odd, given that the $15 wage schedule is the law, and its first stage for large employers like UW is $11 per hour. Starting today.
"The University of Washington contends it falls into a gray area," the Seattle Times reports, "along with other public entities."
Cauce promised to make an announcement by July 1 about the 2,600 student employees who aren't currently on track to $15-per-hour wages. She said the salaries of a few hundred of those students are paid for by student fees. "It is possible that for them to get there, it means raising student fees."
During the demonstration, Neugebauer, the graduate student, pointed to a 15-foot-long scroll the students printed out that lists university employees who make at least $150,000. "UW is saying they'll have to increase student fees," she said. "We're saying based on that list right there of people making $150,000 or more, there's plenty of money at UW. You don't need to balance the budget on student backs."
And the list of all UW executives and admin who make over $150k/year goes on and on #ReclaimUW #15nowatUW pic.twitter.com/88lVCSZ70g
— UW AWDU (@UW_AWDU) April 1, 2015
When the demonstrators reached the UW administration building, Cauce came out to talk with them. 15 Now activists questioned her about the gap between the university's lowest-paid employees and the football coach, who earns a cool $3.6 million annually.
"It's not like I can take the money that fans pay to see football," Cauce said, "and put it over here [into student wages]. Because they are a self-sustaining unit. They are not a state-paid unit, so that wouldn't work."
But many of those on that long list of well-compensated UW employees, she said, like her, are paid with state dollars. Why not flatten out the wage structure at the university? "I would like to see inequality flatten out," she said. "Having said that, I don't think the answer to that is paying people below-market wages and not having the best talent we can here... I believe it is necessary to get the top talent doing the top jobs at the university."
For the moment, if you're a student employee, it seems, you do get below-market wages, you're not top talent, and you're not doing a top job. And UW would prefer not to use the word "comply" when it comes to how it comports with the city's landmark minimum wage law.