‘We’re just really, really heartened’: Washington University to increase minimum wage to $15 by 2021

| Senior News Editor

Washington University will increase the minimum hourly wage to $15 an hour for regular employees and basic service contractors on July 1, 2021, Chancellor Andrew Martin announced June 25.

To transition to $15 an hour, the minimum hourly wage will first increase to $12.65 for regular employees and $12.25 for basic service contractors on July 1, 2019. The minimum wage will then increase to $13.80 for both types of employees July 1, 2020. According to Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration Henry Webber, the higher wage is a “significant increase” explaining how the increments approximately translate to a 20% raise over a two year period.

While an estimated 1,200 University employees will be impacted by the wage increase, it is expected to predominantly affect those who work in dining and janitorial services. Neither graduate or undergraduate students are included.

Martin’s announcement follows months of demonstrations by the Washington University Graduate Workers Union (WUGWU) demanding the University to grant its workers a $15 an hour minimum wage and provide free childcare options.

In his statement to the University, Martin wrote that he made this decision “after an inclusive, thoughtful and thorough process that involved dialogue with students, University employees, community activists and St. Louis religious and social justice leaders, as well as a full assessment of the financial and operational implications.”

“I have recommended that we take this step because it is the right thing to do. The University’s current minimum wage is well above the regional average, as well as federal and state mandates,” Martin wrote. “Nonetheless, we always are open to considering ways in which we can further support our employees. I thank those who have brought this issue to our attention.”

Webber said that the process leading to the wage increase was very “productive” from his standpoint.

“I think it’s an important issue about the economic security of our lowest-paid workers and their families was raised by a number of activists and a number of representatives,” he said. “We looked hard at those issues and concluded that in fact we as a community should we doing somewhat more to improve the economic security of the lowest paid members of the University community.”

Co-chair of WUGWU’s executive committee and Ph.D. candidate Grace Ward said WUGWU is proud of what they were able to achieve.

“We’re really just kind of inspired to remember that direct action works, in this case. I mean members of our own organization as well as undergrads, housekeepers… , people put in so many hours marching, camping, writing letters, making calls to get this, to get a raise and I think it affects 1,200 employees and that’s just huge,” Ward said. “That’s a whole lot of people who are going to have substantially more money and have life be a little bit easier because of that. We are just really excited about that.”

The University’s minimum wage increase was not extended to graduate students as the University makes a distinction between graduate students and Washington University employees.

“The strong majority of the views of the people involved were that there’s a fundamental difference between those whose time here is enrolled at the University as students and are working, but their primary role is as students, and those people …. [whose] full time role at the University is as an employee or a contractor,” Webber said.

When asked if there were any plans to increase the minimum wage for graduate students in the future, Webber said that wages are “always an issue of discussion”, but emphasized how the University views graduate students primarily as students.

According to Ward, WUGWU will continue to “be very present and busy in the coming year” as they continue to advocate for workers on campus.

“We feel we still have a lot of work to do. We still really believe that childcare options need to be improved for employees on campus,” Ward said. “We also believe that both graduate workers and undergraduate student workers need to be included under the employee definition and need to have the minimum wage paid to them also increase. Those are the points to keep working, but, again, in general we’re just really, really heartened that this is what we all got to have happen.”

Additional reporting by Jaden Satenstein

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