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Student workers frustrated over pay

Nearly a month ago at Carleton College, close to 50% of food service student workers went on strike because of low wages — originally set at $11.15 per hour — and lengthy shifts. It wasn’t until about two weeks ago that the students and the College reached a temporary agreement. The agreement reached, according to Alice Qin ’25, a current student worker at Burton Dining Hall, will see student workers and managers receive a $1 raise, in effect immediately, along with a $2 retention bonus for student managers in particular. 

For next term, Carleton plans to set the base wage for student managers at $13.50 per hour and increase the regular wage for all student workers across campus to $12 per hour. 

Many St. Olaf students — about 2,100 on-campus — have a need-based work award as part of their financial aid package. Meeting this award can be challenging for students who have to balance schoolwork, practices, rehearsals, or clinicals with working to achieve their full award. This balance can create concerns surrounding student work not unique to St. Olaf’s counterpart across the river. 

Steve Lindley, Director of Financial Aid at St. Olaf, explained in an email to the Messenger, “The typical work award is $2,700 for the academic year [and] each work award is tied to that specific year.”

The College recommends that students with awards work eight hours per week to meet their granted amount. However, most students end up not meeting their work awards. Some, because of other commitments listed above, choose not to work at all.

Between the varying jobs that qualify for student work awards, hourly wages don’t differ very much, and they follow Minnesota’s current minimum wage, which stands at $10.33 per hour, according to Lindley. On-campus, the “vast majority” of students are paid $10.35 per hour, while other supervisory jobs, like Admissions, pay $10.60 per hour.

Between student hall receptionists, department student workers, and food service workers in either Stav Hall or the Cage, the hourly wage is the same, with the exception of junior counselors (JC) and resident assistants (RA) — who also get their room covered. 

JCs and RAs also get lower work award amounts than other student work positions. Natalie Naze ’23, who works as a JC in Kittelsby Hall, wrote in an email to the Messenger, “Many, many students who work in Residence Life have to work other jobs, and because we can only have a $500 work award, quite a few of them end up working off-campus.” 

However, as residence life workers are paid through the Residence Life budget, which consists of many different facets, they receive a more limited work award to compensate for the overall budget’s structural limitations.  

“So yes, although I would like to be paid more, and although I’d really like to see my coworkers paid more, I honestly think we’re getting the most we can with what limited funds Residence Life has,” Naze wrote. “I think the bigger issue is in the way funds are allocated on campus.” 

 While Bon Appetit, a third-party food service provider, coordinates hiring and scheduling for student food service workers at both St. Olaf and Carleton, other student workers are paid through the College’s student employment budget, including those in Stav Hall and the Cage. 

Alli Hering ’25 has been working at the Cage since the beginning of the year. In an email interview with the Mess, she wrote how she feels that in the current job market, students like her are being underpaid.

“If I were to go be a barista at Caribou or Starbucks I would probably be making $15 an hour, which is five dollars more than what I’m making right now, so I do think that if you’re looking at comparisons of alternative places of work, we are being underpaid,” Hering wrote.

Similar to Hering’s comparison, Qin believes that “a raise of around $4, although ambitious, is the only appropriate number.”

“[At Carleton] being a dining hall worker is so incredibly taxing compared to other jobs on campus…some students might prefer working more hours at a more relaxing job rather than working fewer hours as a dining hall worker,” Qin wrote.

Jack Howrey ’23, a worker in Stav Hall and the Bon Appetit representative on the Student Senate’s Stav Force One committee, echoed Herring and Qin’s sentiments regarding wage rates in an email to the Messenger. 

“Generally I would say that the cafeteria does not treat its employees fairly or equally, and sees the opportunity to pay students less unless they take action to get paid more,” Howrey wrote. “I have also noticed that there is not a great retention rate among many student employees in the cafeteria, and I believe this is due to the pay not being enough for the amount of work that is expected of our student employees (since many of them do not even know that they could be making more than $10.35).”

Students who work in the cafeteria and the Cage are hired under the College’s regular wage rate, but if they “work their way up” or directly request a higher rate, they can qualify for payroll, which means that they are then paid under Bon Appetit and not the College itself, Howrey explained. The rate for students hired by Bon Appetit under payroll increased to $14 per hour recently, although students who earned payroll prior to this increase, like Howrey himself, have seen their Bon Appetit wages remain at $12 per hour — the previous Bon Appetit wage above the College’s wage — despite requests to reach the new $14 per hour rate. 

Transparency between students, financial aid offices, Bon Appetit, and the colleges as a whole is something both Hering and Qin hope can help clear up why the wage, especially for Cage and Stav workers, is regarded as lower than it should be.

Traci Quinnell, Bon Appetit’s General Manager at St. Olaf, addressed student concerns regarding wages, hours, and general working conditions at a Town Hall event on April 26. The Town Hall and Stav Force One, the sponsors of the Town Hall, are two recent examples of how students are seeking to increase transparency and communication between staff and student workers.   

The College hired Amarin Chanthorn as Employee Engagement and Experience Specialist last winter to review, manage, and administer the student employment program, which, according to Chanthorn, largely deals with how to “provide equitable and meaningful outcomes for students.” 

Seeking to provide such outcomes aligns with student feedback garnered through a sociology and anthropology (SOAN) department research methods class that partnered with Human Resources to “review student employment at the College,” Chanthorn wrote. 

According to Chanthorn, students from this SOAN class, which was taught by Associate Professor of Practice in Sociology/Anthropology Ryan Sheppard, offered suggestions about wage structure, supervision, and other employment topics based on the responses from 550 participating students.

Food services remain the most prominent area of concern among student workers at both Carleton and St. Olaf, according to the SOAN class study and other student feedback.    

“I’m currently drafting a proposal to revitalize student employment, which will address the roles in food services, and I’m grateful for the work of our students,” Chanthorn wrote. “The proposal adopts most of the SOAN recommendations, and our plan is to begin implementing a revised program in the fall of 2022.”