Schools can pay student employees less than the state's minimum wage. It is legal, but is it fair?
Hofstra student Desie Jaime works an overnight shift as an RSR. Photo by Cailin Loesch.
In late 2018, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo made headlines when he announced a minimum wage increase in New York State, rising to $15 for large employers in New York City and continuing to rise all across the state.
Still, Stony Brook University has a campus-wide minimum wage of $10.15 an hour. SUNY Oswego’s is $10.40; Syracuse’s is $11.10. On Long Island, Hofstra University can, and does, pay student employees as little as $8.25 an hour. Why is this, and is it fair?
To start, this $15/hour minimum wage doesn’t yet apply to all employers in New York City. As of December 31, 2018, the minimum wage on Long Island and in Westchester is $12/hour, and $11.10 in the rest of New York state. The minimum wage will not reach $15 for Long Island and Westchester until the end of 2021.
Even when the minimum wage is raised to $15 for everyone, according to Karla Schuster, Assistant Vice President of University Relations at Hofstra University, New York State’s minimum wage does not apply to students working at their own college.
According to Hofstra University journalism student Desiree Jaime, a resident safety representative who makes $8.75 an hour (or $9.25 an hour between midnight – 8 a.m.), paying any Hofstra student below the minimum wage for Long Island is not fair.
“I find being paid less than half of what some earn in New York kind of ridiculous, because it doesn’t even support the cost of living in New York, which is the number one reason why I have the job,” explained Jaime. “Even on my overnight shifts I am not making close to $15.”
Jaime’s stance is a popular one among students. Sally Roscoe, an environmental science major at Hofstra who works as a tutor for the school’s geology department, agrees, and feels that the students may not be the only ones affected by low campus wages.
“I feel like it’s unfair to students and it takes away the incentive to work for the university if you can work somewhere else and get the New York state minimum wage,” said Roscoe.
Roscoe, who gets paid $14 an hour, says this higher rate of pay is because the geology department, rather than the university, supervises the student tutoring program.
“It comes out of the geology department’s budget, so maybe that’s why,” said Roscoe.
Schuster argues that nearly 80 percent of Hofstra students earn more than $8.25/hour, with some students earning as much or more than the $12/hour minimum wage on Long Island.
One parent of a Hofstra student, who wishes to remain anonymous, argues in support of the university’s decision to pay some students below the New York state minimum wage.
“The only justification I could possibly have for not paying the state minimum wage is you can hire more people for the same amount of budget,” they said. “So in other words, you can hire one person at $15 an hour, or you could hire two people for $7.50 an hour. So, the university can probably justify it by claiming that they could actually give more students the opportunity to make income versus less.”
According to Schuster, Hofstra’s student employee pay schedule is in fact designed to offer the opportunity for employment to the largest number of students.
“These positions, for which hours are strictly limited so students can focus on their studies, are not intended to be a student’s primary source of financial support,” Schuster says.
The print edition of Pulse Magazine used an earlier version of the reporter’s story which misstated Hofstra student salary figures and information regarding New York State’s multi-year transition to a $15 per hour minimum wage. The print story also should have included an explanation that had been provided by a Hofstra administration official that the University’s strategy with student employment is not intended as primary financial support to students, but rather to provide various forms of employment to as large a population of enrolled students as possible.