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SLU: Pay what you preach

Phoebe O’Meara, Opinion Editor

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If you are a student with a job in St. Louis, there is a good chance your next paycheck is going to be lighter than usual. Last week, St. Louis’s minimum wage was rolled back from $10 an hour to the state wage of $7.70, becoming the second American city in history to decrease the minimum required pay of workers after a raise had gone into effect.

This unprecedented action took effect just days before Labor Day, a federal holiday designed to celebrate American workers and their contributions to society.

More than 100 businesses within the city have pledged to continue paying employees a minimum of $10 an hour, despite it no longer being legally required. Saint Louis University has not yet announced an intent to do so. Lowering employees’ wages is an act of economic injustice that threatens the financial well-being of the university’s workers. Reducing the pay of hourly employees would be in direct opposition of SLU’s mission to seek justice and a greater good as a Jesuit institution.

The minimum wage decrease is the latest development in a long battle over the establishment of a livable wage in St. Louis. In May, the city’s base pay was set at $10 an hour after a Missouri Supreme Court ruling upheld a pay increase ordinance originally passed by the city in 2015.

Shortly after, the Missouri Legislature passed a law that prohibited local governments from establishing a minimum wage above the state’s rate. This went into effect on Aug. 28, meaning that after having lived with a raise for three months, employees’ pay can now be slashed down as low as $7.70 an hour.

A single adult must earn an hourly wage of at least $10.43 to support themselves in St. Louis, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. This amount skyrockets when children and dependents, unpaid sick days and business closings limit the number of hours an individual can work.

While the $10 rate certainly does not erase this problem, it is a small step toward closing this gap and ensuring that individuals working full time can fulfill their basic needs. If SLU and its contractors elect to reduce the wages down to the state requirement, many student and service-level workers could see a 23 percent decrease in their paycheck.

That means the Aramark employee that flips your morning pancakes in Grand Dining Hall may have 23 percent less money to support their family.

The student worker who is scheduled to the late-night shift at Pius Library, making it possible for the building to stay open 24 hours a day, may have 23 percent less money to use for their tuition payments. The mail services worker who ensures that every Amazon Prime package and Chegg textbook delivery gets to the right person may have 23 percent less in which to buy their groceries.

Since the minimum wage decrease, several SLU departments have advertised campus jobs with rates below $10 an hour, including the Department of Housing, Residence Life & Student Involvement, the School for Professional Studies and the Events office.

Other departments have committed to protecting their workers and paying above the base line. For example, the Community Service Federal Work Study positions available through the Center for Service and Community Engagement allow students to earn $10 an hour working for nonprofit organizations around St. Louis.

While a common argument among individuals opposed to raising workers’ wages is the belief that higher wages kill small businesses, small business owners have been at the forefront of the “Save the Raise” movement that is encouraging employers in the city to maintain at least a $10 base pay.

SLU student favorites such as the Moolah Theatre, El Burro Loco and Pappy’s Smokehouse are just a few of the many locations that have chosen to maintain a higher wage for their employees. Yet as a major St. Louis institution and employer, SLU has not yet made a commitment to pay their employees a fair wage for the work they do that is essential in allowing the university to function as it does.

Our mission calls us to do what is right, not just what is required. If SLU is truly committed to living out the values of its Jesuit identity, then it must commit to paying all employees a fair wage, beginning with at least $10 an hour.

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SLU: Pay what you preach