San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

City minimum wage does not apply at SDSU

Christian Rangel, Staff Photographer

Why doesn’t San Diego State University pay all student employees the city minimum wage?

Psychology sophomore Kiana Wiley has worked in the serials department in the San Diego State library through the Federal Work-Study program since June.

When she heard that the City of San Diego was raising the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour in July, she naturally assumed her wages would increase since she works within the city of San Diego geographic limits.

Wiley said when she and her boss began to look at her wages, they were told by SDSU that the university would not be increasing her wage to $10.50 because the school was exempt from local laws pertaining to minimum wage.

However, the federal government’s Student Aid Handbook reads “If a state or local law requires a higher minimum wage, the school must pay the (Federal Work-Study) student that higher wage.”

“It might not seem like a huge deal, but the increase would make a difference for many college students,” Wiley said.

A lawyer from the California State University Office of General Counsel, Marc Mootchnik said the handbook correctly states the requirement, but CSUs are exempt from the local law.

Gina Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the university, said 41 percent of student assistants for non-auxiliary branches are currently making equal to or above the San Diego minimum wage of $10.50.

The other 59 percent, many of whom may pay for rent, groceries, transportation and other costs in the city of San Diego, are not making the current city minimum wage of $10.50.

Associated Students, Aztec Shops and the university

Students like Wiley who work directly for the university may also be making less than their peers who work for Associated Students and Aztec Shops on campus.

Senior public information officer for the City of San Diego Racquel Vasquez explained that since the university is performing a governmental function, the city minimum wage ordinance does not apply.

But since Aztec Shops is proprietary rather than governmental, the ordinance does apply.

“A Rubio’s or Starbucks located at SDSU is likely not providing a government function of SDSU and would be subject to the City’s Minimum Wage and Earned Sick Leave Ordinance,” she wrote.

A similar rule applies to Associated Students, which oversees the Aztec Recreation Center, the Aquaplex and the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, among other areas.

Patty Rea, human resources director for Associated Students, said A.S. is a separate non-profit auxiliary corporation of the university.

“Therefore, we are subject to all federal, state and local city ordinances, including the recent San Diego Sick Leave and Minimum Wage Ordinance,” she wrote in an email.

The SDSU Research Foundation is another exception.

Jacobs said in an e-mail that the foundation employs 431 students and as an auxiliary is required to pay the city minimum wage of $10.50 or more.

“When you add together all of the students employed on campus by the University or one of its auxiliaries, more than 70 percent are making the City minimum wage or higher,” she wrote.

Students who work for non-auxiliary university divisions such as Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, University Relations and Development, Undergraduate Studies and other university departments are not subject to the minimum wage law.

Why is the university exempt?

Mootchnik said since SDSU is a state entity, it is not bound by local laws despite being within the geographic boundary of the city.

“San Diego State is part of the CSU system, which is a state government entity,” Mootchnik said. “It isn’t bound by local laws, similar to how the federal government isn’t bound by state laws, for example.”

Vasquez confirmed in an email that the city can not interfere with SDSU’s decisions on minimum wage.

“The sovereign powers doctrine bars the City from interfering with the sovereign power of a public agency to set employee compensation,” she wrote. “As such, students who are directly employed by SDSU are not subject to the law.”

Mootchnik said decisions on whether or not to adhere to local ordinances is determined on a case-by-case basis, and up to individual departments.

Director of Human Resources for SDSU Thom Harpole said it was important to note the university didn’t make a “value-based judgment” when it decided to continue paying some of its student employees the state wage of $10.00 an hour rather than increase to $10.50.

“It was a legal issue, not a value-based judgment,” he said. “There weren’t deliberations, it was just the legal opinion of applicability.”

‘It’s still not right’

Wiley said even if it’s legal for SDSU to not pay all students the minimum wage, she does not believe it is right.

“I think it’s taking advantage of the students because they’re trying to get an education, trying to move forward in life and (paying lower wages) seems like people are taking advantage,” she said.  “It seems like we’re already having to work more than a lot of previous generations, so it seems a little backwards…it’s like they’re fighting for us, but they’re really not.”

A student who works 20 hours a week at $10.50 an hour would make $10 more than a student working the same amount of hours at $10 an hour.

A study done at CSU Long Beach found that approximately 21 percent of CSU students reported food insecurity, and 9 percent reported displacement which means that making an extra $10 a week could make a difference.

A smaller study at SDSU surveyed 266 students and found “nine percent reported that, during their time at the university, there were times when they did not know where they would sleep at night. According to their data, 83 percent claimed to have eaten food that was not nutritious and 80 percent skipped meals due to money constraints.”

“I’m happy to hear that the school isn’t breaking the law, but it’s still not right, in my opinion,” Wiley said. “But I guess I’ll have to live with it. Getting 50 cents more an hour would definitely make a difference, but if I can’t do anything about it, I can’t do anything.”

About the Contributor
Jamie Ballard, Managing Editor
Jamie Ballard is the managing editor of The Daily Aztec for 2016-17. She has been a member of The Daily Aztec since 2013, first as a staff writer and then as a news editor. Her work has been featured at, San Diego CityBeat, Student Universe, and several other sites. Jamie also works as an editorial assistant for Mike Sager, writer-at-large for Esquire and founder of The Sager Group. Follow her at @BallardJamie23 or email her at
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City minimum wage does not apply at SDSU