GW decreases student workers’ summer wages

This summer, wages for GW student workers who receive summer housing will drop as low as $7.25 per hour for some positions, far below the D.C. minimum wage of $11.50 per hour. This represents up to 37 percent decrease in pay for some students. This is coming at a time when the minimum wage in D.C. is on track to reach $15 per hour by 2020 after a unanimous vote by The D.C. City Council last year

Spending the summer in D.C. is both a luxury and burden. It’s luxury in that you get to take advantage of the city’s resources, while at the same time party it up with the thousands of interns who swarm our nation’s capitol for the summer. It’s also a burden because D.C. is very expensive, and many internships don’t pay interns at all. Last year, the career site Zippia used a living wage calculator, designed by a professor of economics at MIT, to determine that D.C. has the highest living wage in the whole country.

Melinda Church, a junior who worked for Facilities last summer and hopes to do so again this coming summer, highlighted that $7.25 an hour is not a living wage in D.C.

Additionally, she noted, many GW summer jobs do not allow employees to have another job to supplement the income from a GW position. This ultimately worst affects students from middle/lower income families. “If I worked 60 hours over a two-week period, my paycheck would be only around 400 dollars,” Church reflected.

Connor McInerney, a senior who worked for Facilities in summer 2014, was paid roughly $11 an hour. He said that hourly wage for his position increased with experience. McInerney started at $10 an hour, but with more semesters under his belt he started earning more.

Under the new wages, the same position would start at only $7.25 per hour.

How is it possible that GW can drop wages so drastically below the D.C. minimum wage?

The Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division outlines the circumstances in which an employer can claim “credit” for providing housing to students. This is the provision, which allows for this change. Essentially, part of the worker’s salary is subtracted in exchange for housing compensation.

An additional summer assistant who works for GW Facilities (who asked to be anonymous for purposes of job conflicts) is okay with the pay change. She gave the following statement to The Rival:

“The students who work for the university and receive free housing over the summer are frequently the students who can't afford to pay for housing over the summer and need free housing in order to access internship opportunities etc. The pay cut will affect the less privileged students, but they don't have another option. For the most part, I think summer will be manageable if you budget for activities and food.”

This facilities assistant said the VIP admissions program has been very transparent about wage changes and that the housing department posted the wage change with the job description. It should be noted, that VIP wages are now $8.50/hour.

She reflected on how the housing compensation and $7.25/hour wage are still more than the D.C. minimum. She also stated, “If I took every penny I made last summer I still wouldn't have been able to afford to live in DC, so I will work for the university again out of necessity.”

Sean Simon, a senior who was in the VIP program during the summer of 2015, said his hourly wage increased from $10.50 to $11.50 while he was employed as a VIP. This occurred at the same time as when the D.C. minimum wage increased from $9.50 to $10.50 per hour.

Someone in the same position would now start at $8.50 per hour.

The LEAD summer assistant position for summer and conference housing was not affected by such change. Assistants make $11.50/hour from January-May (training period) and then $13.50/hours from May-August. Both LEAD and VIP require more training and commitment than Facilities or Housing, which could explain their slightly higher wages, but VIP is still seeing a decrease in wages this summer.

Matthew Grimo, a senior who was a summer housing assistant last year, thinks the pay change is reasonable. He believes the lower wage is justified because of the value of housing in D.C.

Grimo stated: “7.25/hr is a whole lot less than 11.50/hr, for sure, and it's going to be a big adjustment for people who worked last summer, but from the university's perspective, they're also providing summer employees with housing. Housing summer assistants are usually even a bit better off, since they typically includes a single room in a dorm on campus.”

Others remained worried about the change. Grace Ishimwe, a senior who worked for the university over the summer in 2015, said, “As someone who took classes while working at GW over the summer, I believe the drop in wages will be difficult for students who wish to either pursue an internship, work experience, or academic course outside of their position on campus, as they will most likely have to look for a second job to supplement the high cost of living in DC.”

It is clear that there are varied opinions on the drop in wages for many student workers at GW this summer. Whether or not students are okay with the wage change, it will definitely have an impact on their lifestyles and the affordability of GW over the summer.

Want to share your thoughts on the summer wage change? Want to submit an op-ed? Email gw@therival.news.

Originally published by Courtney Buble on gw.therival.news on 2.21.17.

CampusBrandon Bish