North Texas Daily

UNT must pay student-workers $15 an hour and let them unionize

UNT must pay student-workers $15 an hour and let them unionize

UNT must pay student-workers $15 an hour and let them unionize
November 24
12:00 2020

Student-workers at UNT have been mistreated, underpaid and denied benefits. 

In the past, writers for the North Texas Daily have published stories that have expressed the grievances of UNT’s student-workers. Megan Mitchell wrote an insightful article that shared her personal experience working as an A/V technician. Vanessa Delgado recently published a fantastic opinion piece on the problems with the 40-work week. 

The typical UNT student-worker earns an hourly wage that starts at around $8.50. Current limitations under UNT Policy 05.025 restricts the total hours a student-worker can work to 25 hours a week. This constriction is tougher on work-study employees who are restrained to 20 hours a week

A student being paid $8.50 an hour would earn $11,050 annually. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau set the poverty threshold for a single adult living alone to $13,001 a year. UNT is paying student-workers a wage that puts them well beneath the poverty line. It is imperative for the university to acknowledge the truth that wages below $15 an hour are starvation wages. 

Meanwhile, university President Neal Smatresk receives an annual salary of $535,000. That is almost fifty times more than the annual earnings of a student making $8.50 an hour. In order for a student-worker to make what President Smatresk makes in a year, they would have to work each hour of every day for seven years straight.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the college paying the president that generous of a salary. The U.S. is already desperately falling behind in education on the global stage. Universities pay presidents competitive salaries to ensure their talent does not go to another school. 

When compared with other university presidents throughout Texas, Smatresk’s salary is lower than the top ten earners. The highest-paid president is Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young who makes a whopping $1.61 million

UNT should continue to pay top administrators figures that allow the school to hold onto sought-after individuals in a competitive job market, but it also needs to do better for its student-workers. 

Forming unions would allow student-workers to protect what they are entitled to. Current university employment practices leave much to be desired and should be questioned. 

There have been calls on campus to raise the minimum wage before. The previous SGA administration led by former President Yolian Ogbu made the campaign promise of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Multiple executive board resignations and an absent Senate caused the promise to fall through.

The Daily had previously reported that SGA had hosted a raise the minimum wage forum last Spring that only attracted three audience members. The event was cut short and the desire to pursue the increase faded. Future campus movements calling to raise the minimum wage must evaluate the shortcomings made previously.

The limitation on the maximum hours a student-worker can be scheduled was justified by the university using the logic that student-workers are students first and need to focus on their studies over working more hours.

That seems reasonable but the aforementioned UNT Policy 05.025 reveals a different intent behind the restriction on total hours. 

The Career Center clearly states: “UNT Policy 05.025 was adopted to respond to the Affordable Care Act requiring all employers to provide health benefits to employees working more than 30 hours per week.” 

UNT is purposefully under scheduling employees in order to deny student-workers healthcare. This was never about what is best for students. It is about saving a dollar at their expense. It is common for jobs to overhire student-workers to an extreme where each employee is only scheduled a few hours. The tactics of under scheduling and overstaffing allow the university to circumvent providing student-workers with what is just.  

The Carrer Center makes that clear: “This number keeps UNT fiscally strong in response to the Act.” 

In 2019 neighboring Dallas County raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Those employed in the Dallas Morning News’ newsroom were allowed to form a union of their own. Dallas is setting a standard for worker’s rights but Denton and UNT are falling behind. 

UNT must dissociate itself with the backward labor laws of Denton County if it hopes to remain competitive in the university market and claim that it does right for its student-workers. 

The conversation of improving the livelihood of employees on campus should not be limited to just student-workers. Custodians, IT support, administrative assistants and other staff that ensure that the university functions properly need to be paid their fair share too.

There is also huge gaps found within state-funded institutions, from Seth Littrell’s lucrative coaching contract to the meager salary of the university’s custodians, as reported by the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Student-workers are entitled to much more than what the college is willing to offer. The goal of a student-led union movement must be to demand what is their fair share.

UNT must empower student-workers. The university can do this by guaranteeing them the right to unionize, democratize the workplace, earn a $15 minimum wage, end the arbitrary cap that restrains them to work a maximum of 25 hours a week and provide healthcare benefits inscribed in the Affordable Care Act. 

Now is the time for solidarity among student-workers who should continue to speak out against injustice. The university must be urged to finally act. Students are working through a global pandemic. UNT needs to do what is right.

Featured Illustration by Austin Banzon

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Brett Davis

Brett Davis

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