How will SUNY campuses handle minimum wage?

by Winnie Blackwood

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has encouraged all SUNY campuses to adopt his proposed minimum wage phase in model, FM has expressed their concerns and isn’t willing to follow through.

If this happens, New York will be the first state in the nation to establish a $15 an hour minimum wage for all its workers by July 1, 2021, but FM’s President Dustin Swanger said this won’t be happening for the college until it becomes a definite law.
“The community colleges have their own budget, have their own governing boards, and our governing board is not going to do that unless it becomes law,” he said.

Swanger’s reasoning is that while he believes the minimum wage as of right now is too low, $15 is too high. He added $10 per hour is a more feasible wage to look forward to in the next five years.

Jason Rauch, FM’s director of human resources, said there was an agreement to increase the minimum wage, just not at the pace given by Cuomo.

There has been a rise in the past two years, going from $8 to $8.75 an hour on Dec. 31, 2014. Then from $8.75 to $9 an hour (the college’s current minimum wage) on Dec. 31, 2015.

The only employees at FM who are earning minimum wage are the student workers, such as tutors and lab aides.

According to Swanger and Lee Kosiba, FM’s representative of the Civil Service Employees Association, the rest of the staff is being paid around or over $12 per hour as of right now.

Kosiba said, “Our group does see it as we are not getting a raise, and everybody else is. We negotiate with the college and some people for 50 cents an hour maybe, and they are jumping up $4 in a couple years, so is it fair to us? I don’t really think so, but what can I do?”

This was another concern of Swanger’s, if the minimum wage increased to $15, then the rest of the employees who are earning more then the minimum wage will need to see a raise too.

Laurence Zuckerman, FM’s assistant professor of accounting and business, said there are both positive and negative impacts that could come from Cuomo’s proposed model. He also believes the rise to $15 by the projection date is impractical.

“Their [students] wages would go up and to the degree that helps them by earning extra money. That actually helps FM because if students have more money to spend here at the bookstore or the cafeteria that’s good for them and that’s good for us,” he said.

He added, “There’s a negative side to that, though, because when wages go up sometimes the hours that employers make available to workers go down.”

Swanger said this is a possibility for FM’s student workers, as well as the possibility of having to cut jobs. An increase in tuition and fees is another possibility if this comes to fruition.

Rauch said, “If we were to go to the very top at $15 an hour, as of now that would cost annually another $94,000 – plus for the college.”

If Cuomo decides to create a law, Swanger doesn’t know where the extra money will come from. He only has three revenue sources, the students, the counties and the state. There is also only so much money from the federal government.

“The pot of money is the pot of money,” he said.

For the past two semesters, Eleanor Hovak has been both a PERKS tutor and lab aid for the Digital Multimedia Transmedia department. She said she is happy to see a raise.

Hovak believes student workers do deserve to make $15 an hour.

“I think that tutoring and lab aiding and the other sorts of tasks that students get paid for around campus are valuable skills,” she said.

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