Students Organize For Increased Wages

student workersEvery now and then, students come together on something that they feel needs to be changed on campus. The fall of 1968 saw the organization of students over the issue of student worker pay rates. What seems like a penance now was the cause for contention: students felt that the hourly rate of $1.25 was too low.

Over 300 students organized into the Student Workers Organization which threatened to protest if its “demands” were not met. Initially, those demands weren’t clear. Even the group’s chosen spokesperson admitted that they needed more time to figure out what those demands were.

But that’s not to say that their ideas were far-fetched. The newspaper The Northern News found that Northern’s student wage rates were significantly lower than other schools and, what’s more, lacked policy and procedure for increase over time or for more skilled labor.

President Jamrich was empathetic to their requests. He went so far as to say that he “would never take punitive action against a group of students who are trying to bring attention to a problem area like this in the University,” the Northern News said. Jamrich encouraged the group to go through the appropriate university avenues to make their voices heard – rather than threatening protests or other dramatic responses.

As a result, the group met with the school’s vice president for business and finance, Leo Van Tassel. The initial frustration was brought to the administration’s attention in the beginning of November 1968, and by Dec. 6, not only had the group and Tassel come to an agreement but the Board of Control had also approved the terms to take effect immediately and retroactively since Nov. 3.

The new graduated system made $1.45 the minimum wage for students and allowed for a $.10 increase every 150 hours of work. Additionally, student supervisors were allowed higher wages.

Another problem that students brought to the attention of administration was also reconsidered. That was the across-the-board policy that anyone with beards, mustaches or long hair would not even be considered for a job – regardless of the job description. In the policy that the Board of Control approved, the supervisor could make decisions about appearance.

This is a really positive experience about how students and administration worked together to affect change. It hasn’t always been so positive in the past, but it’s refreshing to see how students came together and were reasonable but persistent about their requests.

Written by Lucy Hough

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