University sets $15 wage bill for staff; contingent, casual, student workers not eligible

Griffin Perrault, Editor-in-Chief

Just a few weeks after faculty, staff  and students began organized calls for higher campus wages and benefits through the “Ray for Fair Pay” (RfFP) campaign, President John Bravman announced at an Oct. 11 “employee celebration” event that the University is raising its minimum wage to $15 per hour “for benefits-eligible, non-exempt University employees with at least one year of service.” The previous hourly rate for such employees––including custodians and other support staff––was $12.60.

“As the pandemic continues, Bucknell staff and faculty have adapted to ever-changing circumstances to overcome one challenge after another,” Bravman noted at the celebration, affirming that “[w]e want to reward the critical roles our hourly staff plays in the overall success of the institution by providing them a more adequate pay rate for the valuable work they perform.” All “regular, benefits-eligible staff” with at least one year of service by Nov. 2022 are entitled to the rate hike.

In a press release by the University Communications Office the same day, Mike Ferlazzo described the move as “invest[ing] in the valuable work of its hourly employees.” The $15-per-hour benchmark has long been a point of contention at the federal, state and local-institutional level; a large social movement (the “Fight for $15”) has developed which advocates the wage’s implementation by individual employers and governments alike. While the movement  has met with success in nearby states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, Pennsylvania’s state minimum remains flush with the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. The University’s new rate would put its wages at more than double that level.

Notably ineligible for the new minimum, however, are campus community members such as contingent workers––employees of Parkhurst Dining Services, Indigo Gold, and Barnes & Noble––and so-called “casual workers”––”hired for limited time periods to perform specific job functions on a temporary, as-needed basis,” per the dispatch. “[T]he University will continue to assess” pay rates of the latter, Ferlazzo continued. 

Also excluded from the rate increase are student workers, many of whom earn wages consistent with or slightly above the federal minimum wage. While many student positions have pay scales for which the minimum is only a base rate, most student positions are paid substantially less than the $15-per-hour benchmark. “While I am glad that President Bravman has raised the pay for adult workers,” student Marta Majewski ‘22 explained, “I am disappointed that student workers cannot partake in the benefits.”

In an open letter to President Bravman dated Oct. 19, Ray for Fair Pay––a loose coalition of students, faculty and staff dedicated to improving conditions of employment for University employees––responded to the policy change, calling the rate increase “deeply appreciated” and averring that they “will make a difference to the well-being of our co-workers.”

Acknowledging the carve-outs for contingent, casual and student workers, the organization lays out a number of policy prescriptions which they feel should supplement the recent rate hike. Among others, it requests that the University “raise the minimum hourly wage of all [emphasized in original] workers […] to match the new $15 minimum wage of full-time employees,” and adds that “employees in outsourced units at Bucknell,” like those of Parkhurst Dining and the local Barnes & Noble, should “receive the same minimum wages and benefits as Bucknell employees.”

Yet more aspirational is the list’s seventh request––Bucknell must “[c]reate ongoing processes for faculty, staff, and students to have a real say in creating and adjusting the pay-scales and related compensation decisions that affect them, and ensure that wages continue to respond to increases in inflation and cost-of-living.” As of Oct. 20 no public response to the letter has been offered by the University.

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