Fordham reluctantly raises minimum wage for student workers
by Gabby Curran
By January 2019, per Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2016-17 State Budget legislation, “big employers”–– companies that have 11 or more employees–– will be obligated to pay their workers at least $15 an hour. This is a $2 raise from the previous $13 established in early 2018, and will be one of many steps Cuomo has taken to ensure that all workers in New York are paid a living wage. Fordham University, then, as a so-designated “big employer”, would have to raise its student workers’ wages accordingly. However, according to an email from SAGES (Students for Sex and Gender Equity and Safety) a few weeks ago, both Fordham’s Student Employment Office and its Human Resources Management had other plans.
On Thursday, October 25, the Lincoln Center branch of the SAGES Coalition sent an email out to Fordham’s student workers informing them that Fordham had no plans to increase its students’ wages come January, despite it thus far having done so incrementally according to Cuomo’s legislation. SAGES shared a screenshot of an email from Fordham’s Office of Human Resources Management in September 2018 that stated that Fordham would “exercise its right, under Article 19, Section 651 of the Minimum Wage Act [which allows students working for a non-profit organization that operates exclusively for “religious, charitable, or educational purposes” to be excluded from the minimum wage increase] to cap the minimum wage for covered student workers at $13 per hour.”
Student workers who caught wind of the news did not react positively. Katherine McGuire (FCRH 2020), who worked for Fordham’s admissions office over the summer as an intern, said that she was “heartbroken.” “A lot of students are forced to work during the school year to ensure that they can even go to Fordham,” she stated. “To not raise the student’s wages is incredibly unfair. In order to keep its price tag as well as its range of students, it must give students the chance to be here and pay them accordingly.” Anthea Vishegonov (GSB 2022), an employee of the Athletics Department’s Event Staff, concurred that although she enjoys being a student worker at Fordham, she wanted her student worker position because of Fordham’s high tuition, and because “even with the scholarship [she] received, [her] family is unable to cover the cost of my education at Fordham and therefore have taken out very large personal loans.” Caroline Viola (FCRH 2020), a Student IT Consultant, expressed her disapproval towards Fordham’s initial decision. “Fordham should have been planning for the minimum wage increase since it has been a known plan for NYC for a while now,” she said. “It just struck me as poor planning and irresponsibility that they would think about paying less than what is legally allowed.”
In response to Fordham’s plans and fellow students’ outrage, SAGES created the “Fight for Fordham’s 15” petition. It demanded that the minimum wage be raised accordingly by January 2019. It also went a step further, using the minimum wage issue as a jumping off point to call for sufficient work hours for student workers to meet their allocated funds, an increase in student workers’ financial aid, a bimonthly pay schedule (as opposed to the monthly one currently in place), a public statement that Fordham will not discriminate against minorities in its hiring practices, and sick leave for students unable to work due to an illness or disability. Student workers responded positively to the petition, leaving concurring comments and suggestions in its margins on Google Documents. On the subject of the petition, McGuire felt that “[Fordham’s student body is] one of the “least heard by the administration” student bodies in the nation. As a school that preaches to “be bothered by the injustices in the world”, it is shocking how little they let us actively attempt to make a change in what bothers us. That needs to change.”
The petition got 26 signatures in its first four days before the need for it was halted by an email from Fordham’s Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Martha Hirst on October 29th. It informed students that Fordham wasn’t planning on raising the minimum wage due to budgetary issues and was intending to do it the following year instead. Nevertheless, Hirst wrote, Fordham was ultimately able to find sufficient funds in its budget to cover the minimum wage increase, and would proceed to raise it to $15 on January 1st, 2019 (Fordham’s Student Employment Office rectified the date to January 9th in an email sent the next day).
As for whether or not students’ reactions and the petition influenced Fordham’s final decision, one can only speculate. Olivia Del Vecchio (FCRH 2020), a WFUV employee, said that she “[didn’t] think the petition was effective at all in playing a part in Fordham’s ultimate decision or was ever going to change opinions or perspectives of key decision makers on this matter [because] a minimum wage increase is mandatory by the state of NY, and since Fordham is an employer in the state, they must comply to laws and regulations.”
Despite the lack of transparency on Fordham’s part, some student workers remain hopeful for the future of the university’s student workers. As McGuire puts it, “As someone who is honored to be a Fordham student regardless, I hope they are honest and try to maintain that honesty in the future, rather than in reaction to how we react.”