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Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Hyperliberal UC Berkeley Won’t Pay Higher Minimum Wage

Famous nationwide as a bastion of liberalism, the University of California-Berkeley has chosen to ignore a local ordinance raising the minimum wage, claiming an exemption as a state agency.

California’s minimum wage is $9 an hour for all workers, but on October 1 the city Berkeley implemented a local ordinance raising it to $10, seeking to improve conditions for low-skill workers in a city with a high cost of living. However, the city cannot compel state government entities to pay the higher wage, and so UC-Berkeley, the city’s largest employer, has exploited its state affiliation to keep paying 25 percent of its student employees less than the city minimum, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed.

The school isn’t alone. Several other cities in California, including San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose have approved local statues increasing their minimum wage above the state minimum. In San Francisco, where the minimum is $10.74, San Francisco State University has used its exemption to keep 44 percent of student employees paid less than that.

Not all colleges are avoiding the minimum wage hikes, however. Both San Jose State University and the City College of San Francisco have complied with heightened minimum wages.

Berkeley city council member Jesse Arequin told Inside Higher Ed that while the city couldn’t compel UC-Berkeley to do anything, “We were hoping they would follow the letter and the spirit of the law.”

“$10 an hour is not enough to support yourself in Berkeley or the Bay Area,” he said.

UC-Berkeley has been famous for the liberalism of both students and faculty ever since the days of the campus’s Free Speech Movement during the 1960s. In 2012, individuals associated with the University of California (which Berkeley is the flagship campus of) were the biggest bloc of donors to President Obama’s reelection.

The school has defended itself, telling the local East Bay Express that “budget constraints” require that it keep student wages down. However, the UC system has recently given big pay boosts to some of its top executives, leading many to criticize its claims of a money shortage. For example, earlier this year, UC-Berkeley vice chancellor and provost Claude Steele received a pay increase of $75,000, raising his base salary from $375,000 to $450,000. That raise could have paid for a higher minimum wage for 220 student employees working 20 hours a week over a 17-week semester.

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