Work week cap makes on-campus employment unaffordable

Jimmy Lai/HIGHLANDER
Jimmy Lai/HIGHLANDER

Students are employed all around campus — in dining services, as clerical workers in various campus offices, in the library and as campus tour guides, just to name a few. On-campus jobs are sought after because of their proximity to classes, flexible hours and involvement in the campus community. Like any other part-time job, students are paid the minimum wage of $10 an hour. However, the UC system has a cap on the number of hours a student can work, limiting student workers to work no more than 19.5 hours per week.

Such a limit is in place because, according to California labor laws, any employee that works over 20 hours a week has the right to vacation days and other benefits. While this policy saves the UC system extra expenses, this means students make a little under $400 on a bi-weekly basis. Many college students can attest that a paycheck of that amount is not enough to cover living expenses such as rent, groceries, textbooks and other emergency bills.

Though it can be argued that student workers are in fact students, whose main concerns should be their education, such a meager income can hinder them from receiving a proper education. Unless their paycheck is supplemented by student loans or parental aid, these student workers might be forced to seek off-campus jobs that might allow them to work more, but are farther from campus or demand work hours that conflict with their class schedule.

This policy, then, inadvertently discriminates students in dire need of a larger income. The only students able and willing to work for such a small salary end up being those who have other sources of financial support. Consequently, on-campus employment becomes a luxury and privilege, instead of a right.

In order to make on-campus employment more accessible to students, the UC system should consider lifting the cap on hours, raising it enough so students can earn a livable wage or allowing certain students be exceptions to the rule. This cap on hours pushes students into a corner, and makes them choose between two options that are really no better than the other.

It might concern some that if students take up more hours at work, they will have less time to focus on their studies. However, one of the benefits of an on-campus job is that the bosses are also school employees that understand the demands of a college workload. Students can take off the time they need without fear of becoming expendable to the workplace. If anything, it would help students to learn which commitment to prioritize, and manage their time better.

Students who are employed off-campus are at a larger disadvantage because they often have to commute from school to work, which can be quite time consuming, especially if they take public transportation. Additionally, they might not be allowed time off because their bosses do not want to risk jeopardizing workplace productivity.

Granted, allowing students to work more than 19.5 hours per week would entitle them to certain benefits they do not actually need. However, many students are already working well above this limit, albeit illegally. Perhaps it is then necessary to draft labor laws more specific to the UC system, that accommodate for students with greater financial burdens.

It is foolish to assume that all students share the same circumstances, and this policy does just that. It implies that 19.5 hours of work are enough to sustain student employees. While college is a stepping stone for more lucrative professions, if students are prevented from attending it comfortably, it is not serving its purpose. Going to classes and acquiring the right grades are difficult enough — college should not be a greater struggle than it already is.

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