UCW losing battle in $15 minimum wage campaign

     Since September 2021, the United Campus Workers — a union with a mission to support workers in the CU system — campaigned to raise the minimum wage for UCCS student employees to $15 per hour. 

     As of Jan. 29, the UCW has gathered over 1000 signatures on its petition to raise the minimum wage; the petition was launched Sept. 7, 2021. However, the campaign has faced setbacks due to lack of action taken and shortage of support from UCCS students. 

     Danika Silerio, a junior professional leadership communication major, is a member of the union and the Fight for $15 campaign. While working in Dining and Hospitality, Silerio felt that the income from her student employee job was not enough to support her expenses. 

     “A common discussion between my coworkers and I was the need to have an outside job separate from the university or working out how we could work as many coffee shops shifts, dining hall shifts, and catering shifts in order to make ends meet,” she wrote via email. 

     According to the UCW, 95.3% of UCCS student employees make under $15 an hour; the minimum wage at UCCS is $12.95 per hour. The other three University of Colorado campuses pay their student employees a starting rate of $15 an hour. 

     Jon Christiansen, an adjunct lecturer at UCCS and member of the UCW wrote via email, “My academic work focuses on labor, class and political economy, so when I was contacted by the United Campus Workers I immediately joined, not just because I’m interested in these issues intellectually, but because I think the university needs to do better by its workers and students.” 

Photo from United Campus Workers.

     According to Christiansen, UCCS should be focusing on helping their student succeed by taking the pressure off making ends meet. He said this would help students with their academic success at the institution. 

     “A lot of discussions I’ve had have been around whether tuition will raise if student workers are making more. It seems this worry is stopping students from fully and publicly supporting the Campaign, which is entirely understandable,” Silerio said.  

     “I also feel that students hear the word ‘union’ and it seems like a dirty word, so they don’t want to get involved,” she said. 

     Despite setbacks, Christiansen said that signatures supporting the petition and press coverage have put pressure on the UCCS administration. This places the students and members of the union in a better position to bargain with the administration. 

     “The reality is that these things are always a struggle. No employer has ever raised workers’ wages out of the goodness of their heart. It takes pressure. That’s exactly what we’re doing, applying pressure,” Christiansen said. 

     At an SGA meeting last semester, Chancellor Venkat Reddy addressed the Fight for $15 Campaign. He said resources are the main hurdle for the university to scale before considering the $15 minimum wage. “If we do [a $15 minimum wage] then we will end up giving less hours to students, so it will take a toll on the number of students we employ,” he said in September 2021. 

     “I would love to do it if the resources can be sustained longer,” Reddy said. 

     “Students shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can cover rent, pay for food etc. while they are in college, especially if they’re working,” Christiansen said, citing the fact that UCCS is the most working class and middle-class campus in the CU system.  

     UCCS also has the lowest graduation rate of any of the four campuses. “The reality is that many of our students are working too many hours at minimum wage jobs struggling to survive. That isn’t a recipe for success in college,” Christiansen said. 

     Silerio said, “Plenty of students must resort to having other jobs on top of their campus work because the cost of living in Colorado Springs is not affordable with working a max of 25 hours at minimum wage; unless you have multiple roommates!” 

     According to Christiansen, “The administration has not yet agreed to raise the wage to $15/hr but I’m confident that the campaign will succeed. It’s just a matter of continuing to exert pressure. And the fact is, students deserve it!”