New California minimum wage raises questions for student workers

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California’s new minimum wage law, passed last September, will go into effect on July 1 of this year, making the new minimum in Calif. $9.00 an hour. The minimum wage is scheduled to increase by an additional dollar on Jan. 1, 2016, to $10.00 an hour. For Occidental students working on campus, the new law will mean an increase in wages as well. Students with work study grants, however, might see reductions in the amount of hours they can work per week or changes in the size of their work study award, according to Employment Manager Karen Salce. The Financial Aid Office has not met yet to discuss how the new minimum wage will affect students who qualify for work study grants.

One possible outcome of the new law is that students on work study will be able to work fewer hours, which could make it easier to conduct research or partake in an internship, Director of Human Resources Richard Ledwin claimed. Students are currently allowed to work up to 15 hours per week, and students with work study awards are given a maximum amount of money that they can earn per semester. If they earn that amount before the semester ends, they cannot work for the rest of the semester. With a higher hourly wage, however, students on work study would work fewer hours to earn the same work study amount.

“There are so many moving parts,” Salce said. “How many hours a student can work per week depends on a combination of factors, like the department’s budget and the student’s work award. We work closely with the Financial Aid Office as well. They look at the eligibility piece and determine the amount that’s awarded, while the HR piece is the nuts and bolts of educating the students where to look for jobs and what paperwork to complete.”

Salce, who primarily handles student employment on campus, explained that the current wage scale used for student employment will shift in accordance with the new wage law. Students who work at the college fall into one of three wage tiers, according to Salce. Students currently earn anywhere between $8.00 and $10.00 an hour, depending on the skill and experience level required for the on-campus position. The three-tiered scale will increase to range from $9.00 to $11.00 starting on July 1.

The next mandated minimum wage increase occurs in January 2016, but because Occidental’s fiscal year begins in July, all wage scales will be adjusted before that time, according to Ledwin. Students on work study will already work at $10.00 an hour in the fall of 2015, when the wage scale will range from $10.00 to $12.00 an hour. Occidental students, relative to other undergraduates at private liberal arts colleges with work study programs, will have a slight economic advantage because of this early wage increase.

No personnel at Occidental works at the minimum wage level, so the new law will not affect Occidental employees, Ledwin said.