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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Çolakoğlu, Hillery and Morales: Our 11-Point Case for $21 an Hour

The SWCD lays out its argument for a $21 hour wage for DDS workers after months of bargaining — a figure that values the labor that students give to the College.

The Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth is more than just a union. We recognize ourselves to be, first and foremost, an organization that aims to make Dartmouth a more democratic and equitable school. We want to give students, workers and faculty more say in how the school is run. We are frustrated with the Board of Trustees system, in which a handful of business executives unaccountable to the Dartmouth community command dictatorial power over a campus they typically visit twice a year. We are distraught by the financialization of higher education, which creates immense inequalities across the country and makes education subservient to the enlargement of endowments. 

As such, we operate with a sense of accountability to our community. Therefore, we lay before you our case for a $21 base wage, for which we are mobilizing to strike. We did not come to this decision lightly — and since we began bargaining in May 2022, we have never come to meetings with the administration unwilling to make reasonable concessions. But we are now at the end of our rope, and below we explain why. 

You will find no embellishments and opacities here — we tried to be fully transparent about our views. You will also find that we have listened to, considered and even incorporated many points raised in objection to our proposals.  

1.   This will be a redistributive act, however small. 

Because the class makeup of our union is mostly working-class, first-generation students of color, this will be a small but symbolically important redistributive act. It will be a step towards ameliorating the stark difference between the opulence of Dartmouth’s traditional wealth and the precarious state of the working-class students it employs. Student workers will use the money they win from the raise to invest in their and their families’ futures.

2.   Dartmouth has already shown it can pay us more than $21. 

$21 is what a lower-tier Dartmouth Dining Services student worker was paid for two consecutive terms last year. During the pandemic, Dartmouth managed to pay us more than our proposed pay and still have stellar finances, earning a 46.5% return on its endowment, raising it to $8 billion that year. 

3.   The proposed difference between our proposal and the College’s is minuscule to them, but immense to us.

The difference between our proposal — a concession proposal which starts out Dartmouth Dining student workers at $20 and $21 per hour — and theirs — $18.50 with an 18-cent increase in the first year, and similar raises until 2025 — amounts to a 0.02% increase in total wages paid annually by Dartmouth, and about 6% of College President Phil Hanlon’s 2018 pay. What is a negligible sum to the College is a massive step forward for student workers.

4.  Similar victories have already been won in other places. 

Columbia University’s student worker union has won a $21 minimum wage and Northeastern University’s dining workers have won a $30 wage by 2026. New York state is currently considering legislation to raise the minimum wage to a range of $20 to $21.25 by 2026.

5.   Inflation and increasing cost of living nationwide justifies going beyond $15. 

2022 saw an annual inflation rate of about 6.5%. Medium and long-term inflation expectations rarely go below 3% and often hover around 4%. The last raise student workers enjoyed was in the fall of 2021, when wages went up two dollars across the board. Given that the raise previous to that was in 2019, we have a responsibility as a union to win real raises, ones that are not wiped out by rampant inflation and rising costs of living.

6.   Winning a $21 wage will open doors for all student workers to get paid a living wage. 

Currently there are not any regular jobs on campus that pay students a living wage. As a result, many low-income students have to turn to off-campus employment to get by. Working off-campus is only an option for U.S. citizens though, as international and undocumented students aren’t able to work off campus and are limited in the amount of hours that they can work. At an institution as wealthy as Dartmouth is, it is unjustifiable that the minimum wage on campus is $11.50, approximately $7 below a minimally livable wage in Hanover. Achieving a base wage of $21 will help pull up all student worker wages on campus. 

7.   A $21 wage will enable us to be more active community members and students, allowing us to get a fraction of the Dartmouth experience our wealthier peers receive.

For many Dartmouth Dining student workers, an increase in wages would allow them to work fewer hours each week or minimize the number of jobs they need to work. These hours can instead be spent studying, becoming more involved in extracurriculars or finally getting enough sleep each night. The most valuable thing our wealthier peers have is time. The academic workload is difficult enough to manage at Dartmouth without having to balance the need to work for wages on top of it all. The Dartmouth experience is unattainable for student workers when we have to spend all of our free time working. Winning a $21 wage will drastically improve our lives, not only by making us more financially stable but by allowing us to take advantage of the opportunities available at Dartmouth. Everyone at Dartmouth would benefit from allowing student workers to become more involved members and leaders on campus. Furthermore, as students, workers and people, we should all have agency over our own time — an agency currently limited by the College’s current and proposed wages.

8.   Nevertheless, Dartmouth has tried to hamper all of our activities aimed at representing more students and workers during the bargaining process.

Some friends have raised the question: Why do dining workers get a raise and other student workers don’t? This question must be addressed to the Dartmouth administration, who rejected our proposal to fast-track the path for any student worker population that wishes to unionize. We are still committed to fighting for all student workers on campus.

9.   The only way to break from the massive power imbalance between bosses and workers today is to dream big. 

History does not move in increments. Instead, it takes leaps forward. We recognize that $21 is a number many are not used to seeing in demands. But consider this: $15 was the slogan of ten years ago, and not only is it not enough for a comfortable life today, it is also crippling to hopes of winning back workers’ share in the economy. Since the 60s, massive increases in productivity have dwarfed nominal increases in wages. More recently during the pandemic, the wealth of billionaires in the world grew by $4.4 trillion, while more than 100 million people fell below the poverty line. Such inequality is not sustainable, and it is time workers win back what was once theirs and more.

10.   Our victories will set precedent for other institutions. 

Peers at the University of Oregon are already running a campaign for a $20 wage for student workers. Other unions at Kenyon College and Grinnell College have already made use of our previous gains. This highlights that our mission is a nationwide one. Our victories will lift everyone up.

11.   Finally, our campaign will highlight the exorbitant wealth accumulated by ultra-rich schools like Dartmouth.

The fact that we can run a $21 campaign and not even come close to making a dent shows that a grand educational reform is necessary today. We recognize the immense privileges Dartmouth students enjoy compared to big public schools around the country, and we commit to using our campaign to point out what Dartmouth has truly become: a hedge fund with a campus attached to it. Our fight will forward a vision of a more just, socialized higher education. 

Kaya Çolakoğlu and Alejandro Morales are members of the Class of 2024 and Grace Hillery is a member of the Class of 2025. They are members of the Union Bargaining Committee of the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth.

Alejandro Morales is a former member of The Dartmouth's Arts staff.