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Oakland Measure FF affects work study salaries

The minimum wage increase will affect work study hours. (HART ROSENBERG)
The minimum wage increase will affect work study hours. (HART ROSENBERG)

Oakland Ballot Measure FF, requiring an increase in Oakland’s minimum wage from $9.00 to $12.25 per hour, will go into effect March 2015. This new measure is good news to thousands but has raised some questions for Mills College’s student workstudy program.

The measure also states requirements for employers to offer at least five days of sick leave to all employees and nine for some larger businesses. Provisions that allow hospitality workers to keep all of their wages and tips are also included. Every Jan. 1, the minimum wage will adjust additionally to fit changing living costs.

Measure FF gained more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in Nov. 2014 and passed with 81 percent of the vote. A major organization behind the initiative was local coalition Lift Up Oakland. The coalition gathered signatures, held promotion events and held a celebratory party once the measure passed. Their website stated that the measure will increase the wages for 40,000 to 48,000 employees.

One concern for businesses regarding the measure is that an increase in the minimum wage will put Oakland at a competitive disadvantage in the job market, with surrounding areas being able to pay their workers less.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates proposed that the whole Bay Area follow suit in order to absolve these concerns.

“Oakland is the place where we would look. If the voters approve the ballot measure, that will set a standard. It makes it much more palatable to people because they are not at a competitive disadvantage,” Bates said, according to Ballotpedia.

Reaching a minimum wage that better fits the city’s cost of living may be a cause for celebration to many; however, campus departments must now budget and organize a new distribution of work hours for students.

The majority of people affected at Mills are those involved in the student workstudy program, which provides students with jobs on or around campus. The amount of money allotted to students as part of their financial aid package may not exceed 5000 dollars, and students may reach this point before the school ends following the wage increase. This means that departments need to create a new plan of action for student hours.

The increased minimum wage will allow students to work fewer hours and accrue the same amount of money. Many faculty members understand the benefit of this, especially for busy students. However, hours are already being cut, as is the case for Margarita De La Torre, an admissions ambassador and sophomore at Mills, whose hours were cut in half.

“I was kind of shocked knowing that I wouldn’t be making as much money as I was planning to, and this change wouldn’t be beneficial to me until the new minimum wage is in effect in March,” Torre said.

Torre also stated that she and many other workers in the city of Oakland may need to find additional jobs in order to fill the wage gap until March.

Aurora Rezapour, Chief Human Resources and Compliance officer at Mills responded to concerns in a statement regarding the minimum wage, saying Mills is working on a solution that will be fair for student workers across campus. According to Rezapour, students can expect more information before the minimum wage increase takes effect in March.

Some are concerned that campus departments, themselves, may suffer from a lack of student help.

Michael Beller, head of reference & access services at the F.W. Olin Library, said student workers are necessary at Mills.

“Students carry a large portion of day-to-day tasks, and we have to find ways of getting everything done without them,” Beller said.

Janice Braun, library director and special collections librarian, does not consider re-calculating hours to be a negative, but merely part of the job. She is glad to see students work fewer hours while still being able to support their education.

In response to the increase, Braun and her assistant, Lauren Devenney, took charge of collecting data and determining how many hours they can provide to fit their budget and keep the library running smoothly.

Braun also acknowledges the value of student jobs on campus beside monetary compensation.

“Work study is just as much about the experience as it is a means to pay tuition,” Braun said. “We support the raise. No one could survive off of $12.25, but it’s better than $9.00.”