SF State student workers are paid below the city’s minimum wage
Student Workers struggle managing personal finances due to inadequate pay
March 8, 2023
Finding time to study in order to pass classes while working multiple jobs to afford tuition and personal necessities is a circumstance many California State College student workers find themselves in.
Students like Svea Leventon, a junior majoring in theater arts, have to deal with responsibilities themselves or receive external support.
“It would be nice to get paid minimum wage,” Leventon said. “I’ve been working for the creative arts department in different positions for the last four semesters. I started out at $16 then got a raise to $16.50 due to the new pay rate. This semester is the first time I got a raise of $17. With only one job, I definitely probably would have had to rely on support from my parents more.”
SF State students who work under the CSU contract on campus as graduate teaching assistants, instructional student assistants and teaching associates earn less than $16.99, the minimum wage in San Francisco, according to the City and County of San Francisco.
The lowest an instructional student assistant can make per hour is $16.20, as classified by the union. Leventon is one of many students who make minimum wage at one of her jobs. She earns $17 as a student assistant in the Creative Arts Building and $16.50 as a teacher assistant for an American Sign Language class. This is Leventon’s first time working two campus jobs. Her paychecks go towards groceries and essentials.
“Two opportunities came up and I kind of need the money,” Leventon said. “I’m very lucky that my grandparents are paying for my tuition and housing, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
Without the support of Leventon’s parents and grandparents, she wouldn’t be able to afford to study at SF State. Aside from SF State students, other CSU campuses students find themselves in similar circumstances.
Lark Winner, president of the Union of Academic Student Workers at the California State University, is a graduate student at CSU San Bernardino who also understands the struggles of working on campus while juggling other priorities.
“With the cost of living in California where it’s at, trying to support yourself while also pursuing your education is incredibly difficult,” said Winner. “The work we do as student workers for the CSU is vital to the CSU mission and our wages should reflect our contribution to the university.”
Winner has had to work three jobs while raising three kids while pursuing her degree due to the low wages not being enough to support her needs.
“We shouldn’t have to choose between buying groceries or paying bills while also getting our education.” Winner said. “The CSU could be a lot more creative on how they support us financially. Beyond higher wages, better access to reduced on-campus housing, transit passes, reduce parking and many other ways that they could ease the financial burden on student workers.”
According to Winner, the Union of Academic Student Workers represents 10,000 academic student workers across all 23 campuses, including 600 student workers at SF State.
“The CSU is a state agency; for my understanding is that they have to follow the state minimum wage, not local ordinances,” said Winner. “Our best method for fighting back on that is basically winning raises for all ISA [instructional student assistants], not just San Francisco ones.”
The minimum wage in California is $15.50 per hour, according to the State of California Department of Industrial Relations. Raising student workers’ wages will be an essential negotiating point with the CSU this summer as their contract expires on Sept. 30.
“As a union, we negotiate contracts with the CSU system statewide in covering salaries, benefits, vacation, your right to pay training, sick leave and all sorts of things we negotiate as workers with the chancellor’s office in Long Beach,” Winner said. “We’re currently getting ready to go into negotiations with the CSU management in May.”
The lowest an instructional student assistant can make per hour is $16.20, as classified by the union.
“Some departments choose to pay higher than $16.20. Our contract establishes both a minimum and a maximum,” Winner said. “For example, the maximum for an ISA [Instructional Student Assistant] position can earn is $21.62 an hour ––it’s the department’s choice to not pay them more.”
The CSU set up a monthly pay calendar that conflicts with weekly necessities students may come across.
“Members have expressed that we should bargain or negotiate over the pay calendar, which will potentially be brought up at the bargaining table this summer to make improvements,” Winner said.
Every campus has its own leadership within the union and sets its own meetings. Every three months there is a joint council meeting.
At SF State, the leaders are Vice President of District 1 Ashkan Forouhi and Sergeant-at-Arms Francesca Felder.
“To me, the most important function of SFSU and the whole CSU is to educate students who are paying tuition, and often when the CSU employs its own students as academic support they don’t pay us enough or invest in enough training or support or benefits for us to do our jobs,” Felder said. “I think SFSU in particular has a reputation of social justice and the fact that a lot of the instructional labor that is done by its own students is undervalued and it’s something that should definitely be fixed.”
Felder says many students feel that having a job as a graduate teacher assistant, instructional student assistant or teacher assistant was not worth it financially.
“We really want to make the case to the CSU that academic student workers are valuable and essential,” Felder said. “By not addressing the cost of living in San Francisco and across the whole state, the CSU is forcing academic workers to take on even more debt. The student debt crisis is out of control and just puts higher education out of reach for a lot of students.”