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UCCS student workers, staff push for $15 minimum wage

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Posted at 7:12 PM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 07:49:58-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Students and staff at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs are pushing for higher pay.

United Campus Workers Colorado (UCWC) created a petition to urge the university to raise the minimum wage to $15. So far, the campaign has collected over one thousand signatures from students, staff, and community members.

According to the union, 95 percent of UCCS student workers and 70 full-time UCCS staff make less than $15 an hour.

"They often would say I can't continue to work on campus because of how low the wages are. The cooks in hospitality services would also say I have to work multiple hours to keep up with either rent or student loans. Even with the day-to-day stuff, they felt like they had to do those extra hours to make rent or whatever," said Eilex Rodriguez, UCCS Graduate Student.

Their concerns prompted her along with other members of UCWC to draft a petition to create change. Living wage research for Colorado Springs/El Paso County suggests that workers need to make at least $16.77 an hour to earn a living wage, and that’s just for single adults with no dependents. This living wage estimate increases for individuals with dependents, which must be factored in with the large number of non-traditional students who attend UCCS. That leaves many workers to make up the $4.45 every hour worked, at half time (50 hours biweekly).

“UCCS needs to show us that they value the work we do,” said UCCS grad worker Alekx Schneebeck. “One of the simplest ways to do that is to pay us closer to a living wage – anything less is unacceptable.”

"UCCS is a center part of the community. If UCCS is able to raise the minimum, it would tell other businesses and community members to raise it as well and look at the wages they are giving to their workers," said Rodriguez.

While she wants the university to raise the minimum wage, she doesn't want it done by raising tuition or student fees.

"There are other schools in the CU system that have raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour without raising student fees and food costs. If those colleges were able to do it, I think it's possible for UCCS to come up with some ideas," said Rodriguez.

UCCS is the only school in the CU System that hasn't raised the minimum wage to $15. Her group finds that inequitable, despite Denver and Boulder having higher costs of living.

"As a campus administration, we think it would be great if all of our campus workers could make $15 an hour, but there are challenges. We have 2,000 student workers on our campus right now, and so if you take that over a full year, that is a $3 million dollar deficit," said Chris Valentine, UCCS spokesperson.

Valentine says that the university would have to either increase revenue or decrease expenses to increase the minimum wage.

"Revenue, we receive limited funds from the state right now. Our revenue comes from our tuition and we don't want to increase tuition for all of our students. The other challenge, we did the math and if we wanted to raise our student workers to $15 an hour, we would have to cut 464 student worker jobs. That is twenty percent of our student workforce. Those workers wouldn't appreciate losing their job so their peers could make a few more dollars an hour," said Valentine.

He continued, "The good news is that we are going to increase hourly workers to $12.95 an hour starting January 1st which is a five percent raise."

Valentine says the increase has no correlation with the petition, but normal budgeting for the school year. However, students continue to push for a more substantial increase.

"My hope is that they see the number of students that are for this, the number of labor shortages at UCCS, and the correlation of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour," said Rodriguez.

Union members are continuing talks with the university to increase the minimum wage as well as get the word out to the community.