University employers cope with wage increase

Tim Sampson and Tim Sampson

Ever since Ohio voters chose to increase the state minimum wage last November, University employers have been scrambling to meet the new requirements in time.

Issue 2 went into effect at the beginning of the year, raising Ohio’s hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.85. The law also provides for annual wage hikes in the future based on cost of living estimates.

For the University’s 2800 student employees who were making less than the $6.85 last semester, the new law is having a major impact. But their employers are having a challenging time meeting the demands of the new state law.

‘The timing has certainly made things more difficult,’ said Catherine Cardwell, co-interim dean of University libraries. ‘When we did our budgeting last year for this year, this was not really on our horizon.’

Because the state mandated increase comes right in the middle of the University’s business year, many campus employers said they were rushed to figure out how to pay their employees. The library alone will have to cover an unanticipated $39,000 in increased wages this semester.

‘We were aware of discussions about the minimum wage increase, but did not think that it would be implemented in the middle of our fiscal year,’ said Beverly Stearns, director of administrative programs and services for the library.

Even those students who were already making more than $6.85 prior to the wage hike will see their salaries go up. Most departments have chosen to adjusted wages across the board in order to maintain a proportional pay structure.

‘The effects of the minimum wage increase are not just with those students making $6.85,’ said Michelle Simmons, senior associate director of the career center. ‘It’s also having a cascading effect with the students that are making more.’

Campus employers have been hard press to find ways to cover the increased wages without resorting to laying-off employees. None of the campus employers interviewed reported having laid-off any employees due to the minimum wage hike.

‘Cutting student staff was not an option for us,’ said Todd Shayler, student employment and training coordinator for dining services. ‘That was not something we even considered.’

Although there haven’t been any layoffs, in order to cover an average increase of 52 cents an hour for its 850 student employees, dining services has decided to permanently do away with merit and retention raises for student workers. Shayler said that these raises would be replaced with a still undetermined incentive program to be implemented next fall.

According to Shayler, some workers were unhappy with the change.

‘A lot of complaints we got from students were, ‘well you changing things midstream,” he said. ‘Well they have to understand this is not a change we chose to make.’

Along with dining service, many on-campus employers have hired fewer new employees this semester by combining jobs.

‘In our office for example,’ Simmons said, ‘we restructured things and staffed a little bit lighter for this semester.’

In addition to not laying-off workers, campus employers said that students would not likely see an increase in prices in dining halls or the bookstore.

Simmons also said that the wage restructuring was not likely to contribute to tuition increases for next fall.

‘The amount that we pay student wages is just one small part of the funding for tuitions,’ she said. ‘You hire students that you know you can afford to pay for and not the other way around.’

But this is not likely to be the last time the University will have to change its wage scale in the middle of the year. With a provision in the Ohio law for annual increases and with the potential of a federal wage increase to $7.25 an hour by 2009, the University is taking steps to prepare.

‘We are very cognizant that there will be annual adjustments,’ Stearns said. ‘It’s something we’ll have to now start taking into account as we plan our budgets.’

In the end, employers said the wage increase would ultimately be beneficial for their workers.

‘I think it’s going to be positive for our employees,’ said Yvonne Stoner, associate director of the bookstore. ‘But on that token I think we will be looking to them to be more productive and efficient while they’re here.’