United Campus Workers are campaigning to raise the minimum wage at UCCS to $15 per hour — up from the current $12.32, which is also the Colorado state minimum wage. The UCW has launched a petition titled UCCS Fight for $15 and is gathering signatures as of Sept. 7.
UCCS pays the lowest hourly wages of all CU campuses with over 95% of student employees making under $15 per hour. The university is falling behind CU Denver, CU Boulder and CU Anschutz, who have recently instituted a campus wide $15 minimum wage.
The petition — addressed to Chancellor Venkat Reddy — demands for the minimum wage at UCCS to be immediately raised to $15 per hour.
Clinical psychology graduate student and alumnus of the UCCS psychology undergraduate program, Alekx Schneebeck, is a member of the UCW and has been an active part of the campaign.
According to Schneebeck, the UCW wanted to identify a cause that would impact as many members of the diverse UCCS student body as possible. One issue that consistently came up in conversations with workers was compensation.
“We found that most student workers, despite having survived the pandemic, keeping the school running and being the backbone of the university as far as services go, are not getting compensated to a degree that benefits and supports students financially,” Schneebeck said.
According to research by the UCW, a living wage compensation is $16.77 per hour in El Paso County.
Eilex Rodriguez, a graduate student and member of the UCW, has worked in dining and hospitality, as a writing fellow and as a teaching assistant at UCCS but has felt undercompensated for their work. “Even though I worked at this University almost every year, I still had multiple jobs to make ends meet,” Rodriguez wrote in an email.
Schneebeck had a similar experience after recognizing that the work they were doing for student services was being paid less than similar positions elsewhere. “I wasn’t being compensated enough compared to other people outside the university,” they said.
As a result of pay disparities like this one, students may feel pressured to pursue external employment. However, off-campus jobs can conflict with class schedules or personal thresholds, which can prevent academics from being a first priority.
“If the university really wants to support its students academically, they need to look at the big picture, which includes the financial situation,” Schneebeck said. “Students are already in a vulnerable situation because we are devoting so much time to school.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also continues to impose financial stress on many UCCS students. According to Schneebeck, this factor makes living wages even more relevant now.
“It’s important to recognize that this issue is one of equity and inclusion,” Schneebeck said.
According to UCW labor organizer Hailey Hudget, the union operates to unite people around the betterment of workplace conditions for everyone, which often involves financial compensation for workers.
The UCW employs the use of petitions, direct action, call campaigns, political engagement and lobbying to initiate change.
For the living wage campaign at UCCS, the petition is the leading method of action. However, other tactics such as rallies or sit-ins could follow if measures are not taken by the university to recognize concerns over minimum wage, according to Hudget.
The petition has been endorsed by the UCCS Student Government Association, Chinook Center and UCCS College Democrats. It is also in the process of gathering individual support through signatures.
“We make up the campus. We provide the services to a certain degree. We are also why the university exists because we need an education,” Schneebeck said of UCCS students.
“The petition is a way for the student body to realize that they do have some power and some autonomy in the situation and that it is not just a one-way relationship.”