USU student employees walkout to protest low wages
The semester at Utah State University was only a few hours underway when a dozen student employees walked together across campus to the historic Old Main building, wearing red and holding signs with sayings like “ten dollars is not enough” and “Mothman is real but my wages are not.”
During the walkout, organized by the Aggie Student Labor Union, students protested low wages and subpar working conditions at the university. According to Aggie Handshake, wages for student employees are generally $10 to $12 an hour, which is below MIT’s calculated living wage for Cache Valley of $15.18 an hour for a single adult with no children.
Wages have risen a few dollars for many students in recent years, but there’s no requirement for them to increase with inflation the way wages are for professors, and according to one attendee, Abe Eborn, they are not rising nearly fast enough.
“I’ve been working at the Junction for over two years, and the fact that I’ve not even made a dollar in raises? Insane,” Eborn said.
There are certain programs in place at USU to support financially struggling students, like the USU Health Clinic and the Student Nutrition Access Center (SNAC), the university’s food pantry. Some students, however, feel that doesn’t make up for low wages and limited hours, especially for those trying to pay for tuition without going into student loan debt.
“Back home, I made $13 an hour as a busser at a pizza place. Even then, it took me a year and a half to save enough money for just one semester here,” said Ari, a student employee in attendance. “And that was when I didn't have to pay for the stuff like my own food. And now I'm making less than that. Now I have to pay for school on top of basically everything else.”
Changes to wages for university student employees are determined by the state rather than individual departments. So why not protest in Salt Lake instead? According to Meg Wilson, a committee member with the Aggie Student Labor Union, protesting at the state capital is both financially and physically prohibitive, especially for student employees with full schedules and less than full wallets. Instead, they said they hope to use this as a way to get those with more power to pay attention and work towards change.
“What we need is university allies to fight with us,” Wilson said. “So whether that’s Noelle Cockett, who’s resigning, or the next guy or girl, you know, I want them to know that this is going to be an issue for their presidency, and they need to face it.”
Wilson encouraged attendees to get in touch with the Aggie Student Labor Union if they wanted to unionize as a whole or in their specific departments, where Wilson hopes they can get not just a current living wage but a contract that stipulates living wages for years down the road.
“If they wanna claim they treat us like family, that they love us," Wilson said, "they should show that affection in paying us what we are due."
The walkout followed a rally last November by the Aggie Student Labor Union protesting the same issues.