Local governments throughout California have been passing laws that raise the pay of low-wage workers. One example is the city of Berkeley, which increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour this year, and it is set to increase to $12.53 an hour by 2016. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and California’s minimum wage is $9 an hour, so Berkeley has a higher minimum wage than required under state or federal law.
The increase in Berkeley’s minimum wage took effect on October 1. However, UC Berkeley is still paying hundreds of student employees between $9 and $9.50 an hour, which violates the new law. The students all work for UC Berkeley, and are employed through work-study programs on campus. The jobs are all for academic center assistants and campus security monitors. Academic assistants help run study halls on campus, and security monitors work between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. to help keep the residents in dorms on campus safe.
UC Berkeley claims that it is an autonomous branch of state government, which makes it exempt from certain city and county laws. Therefore, it is only obligated to follow state and federal laws. Although the city officials in Berkeley are aware that the college is paying students below minimum wage, they say it’s not the city’s role to tell UC what to do. Students at UC Berkeley have been lobbying for the college to raise its minimum wage. Students point out that the University of California system is planning to increase student tuition by 27 percent over the next five years. It currently costs $32,000 per year to attend UC Berkeley as an undergraduate.
In response to the push back, UC Berkeley has announced that the campus will pay the city’s minimum wage starting next fall. Thus far, the college has defended its lower wages by claiming that only about a fourth of students make less than the city’s minimum wage, and by pointing out that the average student pay is $12 an hour, which is more than the city’s required minimum wage.
While it’s a positive step in the right direction that UC Berkeley has agreed to start paying its students the city’s minimum wage, it’s disappointing that the college did not agree to follow the city’s law as soon as it was passed. Students could have found another job at a nearby fast-food restaurant or retail establishment that would have paid more than the on-campus jobs.
A failure to pay minimum wage is not uncommon, especially in certain types of jobs. A failure to pay minimum wage is perhaps most common among employers who hire immigrants. Employers often guess that immigrants are not aware of minimum wage laws and may be in the country illegally. Even if they are aware of the laws, they may be willing to stay quiet in order to keep their jobs.
However, a failure to pay minimum wage is illegal under state and federal law, and employers can be held legally responsible in court for their failure to follow the law. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that no employer should be able to avoid local, state, or federal minimum wage laws. If an employer does violate the law, the employer can be held responsible for back pay, damages, and more.
Call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland minimum wage attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. Micha Liberty works with clients throughout the Oakland-San Francisco Bay area to help ensure they are being treated fairly by their employers. Call to learn more or to schedule your free consultation.