San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to live in the world, and consequently has one of the country’s highest minimum wages, but due to an exemption in state labor law, many students working at SF State make significantly less than the $10.24 an hour mandated by the city.
CSU students now pay more than $6,000 a year in tuition. The median rent in San Francisco is more than $1,200 a month. Students often need to work to supplement their financial aid, but some students who work on campus are getting paid less than their citywide counterparts, with some making as little as $8.82 an hour, $1.42 less than the city’s mandated minimum wage.
Although the University is only required to abide by the state’s minimum wage ordinance of $8 an hour, the exemption which lets them to pay less than the local minimum wage seems to go against the spirit of such labor laws, which are intended to guarantee low-paid workers a certain standard of living.
Because the University is a state-run institution, city officials don’t have the authority to enforce the San Francisco minimum wage, according to Richard Waller, Supervising Compliance Officer with the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement.
“The city has no power to impose its laws on other government entities,” Waller said. “California state law just has a superior position.”
Though Waller said the OLSE’s reach doesn’t legally extend to SF State, there is no reason they couldn’t be given that power.
“There is nothing to prevent a change in the law except a lack of political will,” he said.
Hana Haber, a 20-year-old business major who worked at the campus bookstore for nearly six months, said she was originally drawn to student work because of the ease with which she could land the job.
“I applied for the job because it’s almost guaranteed,” Haber said. “I looked for jobs for eight months on Craigslist. At the Bookstore, you basically turn in an application and you get a job.”
Despite the availability of jobs on campus, and the discounts promised with a position at the Bookstore, Haber was disappointed when she got her first paycheck.
“I mean, the job isn’t that hard, but all the kids who work in the restaurants on campus make more than $10 an hour,” she said. “The Bookstore feels like the heart of the campus, but we don’t get treated like it.”
Richard Hogan, a political science major, who works at the recreation department thinks that the current budget crunch at SF State has a lot to do with the low wages paid to student workers.
“I feel a little bit wronged by the salary I get,” he said. “But I understand that the school is working with a limited amount of money. I don’t have a problem with it if the money I’m missing out on is going to help the school, but I’m worried that it’s all going into the ridiculous salary we pay the administration.”
Husam Erciyes, director of marketing at the Bookstore, defended the wages they pay.
“State-run entities are subject to a different wage scale than the local wage scale,” Erciyes said in an email. “Our current starting pay for our student workers is $0.30 more than the university’s starting wage, and currently our average pay rate for our student workers is $10.72.”
The Bookstore is also seeking approval to increase its starting wage, according to Erciyes.
“They can say that they’re exempt because the University is a state entity,” said Karl Kramer, campaign co-director at the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition. “But there is no such language in the (San Francisco) minimum wage ordinance.”
The Bookstore, which is run as a non-profit, has employed more than 2,000 students in the last five years, and given more than $1 million to SF State over the same period, according to its website.
In 2006, the last time Xpress reported on the problem, the minimum wage on campus was $8.80, compared to the city minimum wage of $8.82. Since then, the city minimum wage has increased by more than 16 percent, to $10.24, while the minimum wage on campus has barely risen at all, going up by only two-tenths of a percent to $8.82.
To some, the $1.42 students are missing out on may not seem like much, but it can add up. If a student works the maximum of 20 hours a week, that $1.42 translates to more than $450 of lost wages over the course of a 16-week semester.
Daniel Marroquin, an urban studies major at SF State and intern at the Living Wage Coalition, thinks many students are complacent because they come from places where low wages are common.
“I know some people come in from out of town and are used to making less than $8 an hour,” he said. “But with all the tuition increases and program cuts it’s ridiculous that the school can’t even pay minimum wage.”
Haber agreed. “The bookstore says all this stuff about being a non-profit and how they give back to the campus, but they don’t even pay the students enough to live on,” she said.