In 2016, Flagstaff voters passed the Initiative for a Livable Wage proposition, raising the minimum wage for local workers. Two years after the livable wage passed, NAU continues to pay student workers an hourly rate less than both Flagstaff and Arizona minimum wages.
Hourly rates have been the talk of the town in Flagstaff since March 2017 when City Council amended the proposition. The proposition provided a plan to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by Jan. 1, 2021.
The state of Arizona has also recently increased its minimum wage to $10.50 per hour, as of Jan. 2018.
Despite the rising wages across Arizona, NAU student workers still earn as little as $8.50 per hour due to the wording of the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, otherwise known as Proposition 206, passed in 2016.
NAU spokesperson Kimberly Ott explained in a 2017 interview the way the proposition defines employer explicitly excludes entities conducting business on behalf of the state.
This means that as state institutions, NAU, ASU and UA are allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to increase their employees’ wages. NAU has chosen not to modify their minimum wage.
Citizens in Flagstaff voted to increase the minimum wage because the cost of living in the city has steadily risen since the recession. This has made living in Flagstaff tough for on-campus employees like NAU senior Zack Whittier, a music education major.
Whittier, who works as a shift lead for the information desk in the University Union, currently gets paid $9 per hour, which is $1.50 under the state minimum wage and $2 under the Flagstaff minimum wage.
Since the last Flagstaff minimum wage increase in January, Whittier has struggled to make ends meet with prices of day-to-day items increasing.
“Things got more expensive,” said Whittier. “My pay rate only went up because I got promoted, but originally [my starting wage] was $8.50 and even that was rough. This month I can’t afford my rent. I was in the hospital for two weeks, missed a paycheck and now I can’t afford rent.”
Students have to choose between working off campus for the possibility of higher pay or an on-campus job, making significantly less than they would if they found employment elsewhere.
For Whittier, the answer is convenience. He chose to work on campus because it gave him flexible hours that worked with his school schedule.
“Because of my major, the hours are crazy,” Whittier said. “I am in class typically from eight in the morning until [at earliest] six in the evening. I stay [working on campus] during summer because when it comes back to school time I would have to find another job.”
Hourly wages for on-campus workers at NAU differ between the departments, and each employer throughout the university is allowed to decide what wages to give their employees based on their budget.
Despite the department freedom to set their own wages, it is unclear whether certain departments are being instructed to set their wages at higher or different rates.
Employees of the Student Union and Activities Programming, earn $8.50 per hour, the lowest NAU allows.
“We were directed not to [raise our minimum wage],” said Megan Proctor, NAU Student Union and Activities Programming director. “The idea was to keep things standard as they had been, until a plan was put in place to decide whether or not we were going to mimic Flagstaff [minimum wage] or stay where we were.”
While many on-campus departments, such as the Student Union and Activities Programming, pay entry-level positions $8.50 per hour, there are opportunities on campus to earn a higher wage. NAU Parking Services is one of the highest paying on-campus employer with a starting wage of $10 per hour.
Erin Stam, director of Parking and Shuttle Services, explained why their department chose not to match Flagstaff’s $11 per hour wage.
“We do not feel we need to match the local hourly rate because our student staff do not pay FICA [Federal Insurance Contributions Act] tax and therefore take home more of their earnings than an [off-campus worker],” said Stam.
The practicality of living on less than minimum wage is just part of the discussion. One issue that has been brought up by all three state universities is whether or not it hinders the ability of on-campus employers to compete for employees who would rather earn more by finding a job in the Flagstaff community.
“Initially, when the transition [of raising minimum wage] happened in town, I lost a couple of student workers, but overall I didn’t really see a huge drop,” Proctor said. “I think it is because of the benefits of working on campus. I anticipate that [the lower minimum wage] will affect new students coming in, whether they are going to choose to work on campus or off.”
Proctor believes the advantages of flexible hours and benefits offered by on-campus employment outweigh the less than ideal pay.
Flagstaff’s minimum wage is set to increase again in January 2019, from $11 per hour to $12 per hour. While a plan to either raise university minimum wage or keep it the same has not been released, it is currently still being drafted by an NAU Career Development team.