As students here at ENC, we regularly hear statements from the school regarding how valued we supposedly are. Our school is “Student-Centered,” states one of the values listed alongside ENC’s mission statement, as it strives to serve those with “unique needs, aspirations, and backgrounds” (ENC). Academically, this may well be true, but in an institution such as ENC, which is not simply a school, but a community, applying such values to academics only is not enough. If those values are to be legitimate, they must be consistent. Thus, the recently announced decision by ENC to pay student workers less than minimum wage, apart from being insulting to those of us who work here, is hypocritical in the extreme and a massive failure by the school to live up to its own supposed values.
At the beginning of the year, the Massachusetts minimum wage increased from $13.50 per hour to $14.25 per hour. The state, however, grants waivers for several types of institutions to pay 80 percent of minimum wage, currently $11.80, to certain employees. One such category is “bona fide educational institution[s],” which may pay this rate to “students enrolled in and employed by the institution” (Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards). In the past, ENC has honored such minimum wage raises for student workers. This year, however, although it was a common expectation among both student workers and managers in some departments that the raise would go into effect, they chose not to.
It was thus a complete surprise when students received an email from the administration stating that there would be no raises and that student workers would continue to be paid at the 2021 minimum wage rate. As student workers, we do not typically receive the benefits that one can expect when employed at even other low-wage jobs, such as meaningful raises or bonuses based on performance and tenure. For those of us who have worked for the school for a significant period, these minimum wage increases have been, for most, the only source of increased wages. Additionally, long-term student workers are among those likely to most need the money, either because they participate in work-study to directly fund their education or because they depend on their job to support the many other expenses that go along with college life.
Apart from the practical effects, ENC’s decision is also incredibly insulting to those of us who have worked hard for the school over the years. To receive an email cheerfully stating that we would not be receiving the new minimum wage while seeming to imply that we should be grateful that our wages had not been lowered to $11.80, as the school could have done, felt like a slap in the face to students that have worked hard to help provide services upon which the campus community relies. Looking from the outside, it could almost appear that, knowing that there is a large number of students with financial need, but not the time or reliable transportation needed to easily hold an off-campus job, the college has decided that it would rather take advantage of this fact to save money on the provision of essential services than to live up to its stated values.
ENC justified its decision by stating that the school needs time to ensure that full-time staff are fairly compensated. ENC’s full-time staff are essential to the functioning of the campus, and it is certainly imperative that they be fairly compensated for their efforts. Yet, it is not as if the college had no forewarning of this minimum wage increase, as the process of yearly increases until the minimum wage reaches $15.00 has been ongoing for the last several years. In addition, taking advantage of this waiver process has hardly been ubiquitous among area schools, as others, including both Boston University and UMass Boston, raised their student worker wages to be in accordance with the new minimum wage, with no apparent difficulties (BU Student Employment Office, UMass Boston). ENC is thus failing in the treatment of its student workers, both according to its stated mission and the standards of Boston-area colleges. Therefore, vague promises of a “future” raise for student workers are not enough. ENC should immediately raise student worker pay to the Massachusetts minimum wage.
“Application for Waiver of Minimum Wage for Student Employees Enrolled In and Employed by a Bona Fide Educational Institution 454 C.M.R. 27.06(1)(b).” Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards. https://www.mass.gov/doc/educational-institution-minimum-wage-waiver-for-student-employees-0/download.
“Job Classification Guide.” BU Student Employment Office. https://www.bu.edu/seo/supervisors/guides/jobclass/.
“Mission, Vision, and Values.” Eastern Nazarene College. https://enc.edu/about/mission-vision-and-values/.
“Rest Periods & Wage Guidelines” University of Massachusetts Boston. https://www.umb.edu/life_on_campus/student_employment/eligibility/rest_periods_wage_guidelines.