Not all Wages are Created Equal

4 mins read

Swarthmore refuses to adapt its wage policies to resolve the labor shortage on campus. Simply put, the college needs to give higher pay to incentivize students to work more-challenging campus jobs. Swarthmore needs to increase the tiers of payment reserved for more physically and mentally taxing jobs, and all campus jobs should receive the same minimum salary.

I work a campus job that essentially pays me to do my schoolwork. I dedicate approximately tenten minutes of each shift to the actual responsibilities this job entails: lending and returning chargers, textbooks, and other supplies. The weekday payment is the usual $11.33, and night and weekend shifts receive an hourly wage of $11.88. However, more demanding campus jobs, like work at Sharples and the Crumb Café, are compensated at the same level as these desk jobs. I am not arguing for any pay decrease; I think that all student workers should receive a minimum of $11.33. A pay increase would motivate more student workers to apply to these taxing and understaffed jobs.

One area of employment in need of drastic incentives to encourage student workers is Sharples. Consistently serving food in a crowded dining hall does not remotely resemble the responsibilities or demands of working in a library or any other desk job. Why would someone want to work at Sharples when they could instead do homework in the library for the same compensation? Wage tiers should reflect both the physical demands of their jobs and the relative opportunity cost created by working instead of doing schoolwork. Instead, the majority of payment tiers reflect a different expertise or leadership position. Although the extra 50 cents that Swarthmore pays to student workers at Sharples or the Crumb Café might accumulate in the long run, this minimal increase in payment does not adequately incentivize students to work at Sharples given the possible drawbacks. 

Instead, students should receive a higher pay rate of at least $15/hour to work in more taxing positions. The argument against a wage increase is that Swarthmore paying student workers more might be unaffordable for the school. Although I am unfamiliar with the intricacies of Swarthmore’s budget, I assume that the massive endowment can sustain the added blow of an additional $4/ hour rise in some students’ salaries. On top of that, I can think of a million things Swarthmore spends money on that feel utterly unnecessary — making Wharton 80º in the middle of Winter stands out, for example. 

This problem of wage inflexibility extends beyond campus positions like Sharples or the Crumb Café. One example is the RA position. Upon returning to campus, students noticed a demonstrated decrease in the number of RAs. RAs are expected to fulfill the same duties as before, most notably the “on-call” position, which is now more frequent than in years prior (given on-call is now every night instead of Thursday and Saturday nights). The payment given to RAs, however, did not change to reflect the additional time commitment, nor Swarthmore’s now larger RA budget, due to a decrease in the number of students on payroll. 

Overall, Swarthmore’s student wages are inflexible to employment demands. To address labor problems, Swarthmore must adapt its payment practices. 

3 Comments

  1. I very much agree with your points. In the vast majority of cases, “worker shortage” actually means “employer unwillingness to raise wages”. The way the Swat administration has handled the optics of this situation is deeply immoral. When students complain about Sharples understaffing or limited shuttle hours, the administration says “we’re trying to hire people, but there’s a worker shortage”. If the students suggest raising wages to attract more workers, the administration says “but that would be too expensive”. (One word: “tuition”. Actually, also “endowment”, “size of minimum wage”, and “what tuition is for”.) Then, the administration attempts to guilt students into taking jobs and responds to complaints of understaffing with “well, you should’ve asked more of your friends to sign up”. The administration’s actions are deceptive and money-hungry. Don’t let them guilt you; put the blame where it belongs.

  2. I’ve heard they can’t raise student wages to attract more workers as that would increase them above the level of some essential staff members. I’ve also heard that there’s a shortage of those staff, but at least we have numerous and well-compensated administrators.

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