UMaine Young Democratic Socialists of America
$15 minimum wage
Gabriela Reyes worked a job in dining services during her freshman and sophomore year at the University of Maine in Orono. The Puerto Rican native said she would be on her feet for hours at a time and come home exhausted at the end of her shifts. With no family around for support, Reyes began to struggle in school.
When Reyes started her campus job, Maine’s minimum wage was $9 per hour and by the time she quit it had risen to $10. Mainers passed a 2016 ballot measure to incrementally increase the minimum wage to $12 by next year. But Reyes found the wage she was making didn’t compensate for the stress or the effect on her studies.
Reyes is part of a group of students at UMaine that has mobilized to push the institution to increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour, following the national movement to “Fight for $15.”
Led by the campus chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), members of the movement are currently circulating a petition with the goal of collecting 3,200 signatures, reflecting the number of student workers at UMaine, according to the group.
Kevin Fitzpatrick is a second-year political science and economics student on campus who serves as the chair of YDSA and is one of the principal organizers of the effort. Since his group adopted the Fight for $15 campaign in September, he said they’ve been greeted with a positive reception from UMaine’s student population.
“We came about it from the lens of thinking about social issues and thinking about the political issues that affect UMaine students the most,” Fitzpatrick said.
According to Fitzpatrick, a higher minimum wage would also apply to non-student workers across the University of Maine System’s seven campuses. But YSDA wants to first focus on creating solidarity among the student population which “[has] the numbers to force the most change,” according to Fitzpatrick, before bringing non-student workers into the campaign.
A similar student-led movement recently prompted administrators of Bowdoin College in Brunswick to raise wages for its lowest paid workers to $17 an hour by 2022.
YDSA intends to present their completed petition alongside stories from student workers to the University of Maine System Board of Trustees sometime next year when they will make the case for increased funding for the wage increase.
The Board of Trustees is a 16-member body responsible for decision making and management of the University of Maine System in key areas like adjusting the tuition rate and establishing an operating budget.
UMaine Orono and System administrators have so far been silent on the push for higher wages. Fitzpatrick thinks the issue is on the System’s radar — especially because YDSA’s Facebook ads for the petition are targeted toward anyone with “University of Maine” in their biography, including students, employees, and faculty members — but that administrators will likely wait until the issue gains traction before they take a direct stance on the effort.
“I think when you go to college you should be able to focus entirely on your studies and focus entirely on bettering yourself, and I think that would end up creating a much better populace and also just a better University of Maine,” Fitzpatrick said.
Currently, the group has around 450 signatures, about one-seventh of their goal, which they collected by tabling in high-traffic areas on campus and a social media push. Fitzpatrick thinks they can reach 1,500 by the middle of the spring semester, at which point YDSA will shift the campaign focus to collecting the stories of impacted student workers like Reyes.
“The only reason my supervisor cared about me as a student was when I gave them my letter and told them why I was leaving,” Reyes explained. Reyes said she decided to quit after her supervisor broke a spoken agreement not to schedule her for two consecutive 20-hour work weeks..