from The Capital Times, Thursday, October 13, 2005
By Aaron Nathans
University of Wisconsin-Madison students are voting on a referendum that would purportedly withhold student fees from the Memorial Union and other organizations unless they pay limited term workers a living wage.
Top UW administrators, however, are not so sure the referendum could be enforced.
The Associated Students of Madison election began Tuesday and ends today. The referendum asks students whether they would like to withhold student segregated fees from organizations that pay limited term employees less than a living wage, as defined by the city of Madison.
The organizations include the Memorial Union, Union South, Recreational Sports and University Health Services.
Limited term employees earn as little as $7.25 an hour; the Student Labor Action Coalition claims that, if passed, the referendum would boost the wages to slightly over $10 per hour.
"We're bringing it to the students," said Ashok Kumar, a member of the coalition, who argued the student government has the right to disburse segregated fees as it sees fit. "We don't feel LTEs, student workers, should be exploited like this."
Darrell Bazzell, vice chancellor for administration, said he questioned whether student government has the authority to withhold those funds. He said that without a legal basis, the university won't provide blanket raises to limited term employees.
"It's very difficult to convert limited employment to permanent positions, even when the work is ongoing in nature," Bazzell said.
Segregated fees make up 28 percent, or $6.7 million, of the Wisconsin Union's operating budget, said Marc Kennedy, spokesman for the union.
If the referendum passed and was enforced, it would raise operating costs by $650,000 annually, Kennedy said. Segregated fees would need to be increased by $9 per student, or the union could mitigate that with cuts to services or programs, he said.
"It would be a serious impediment to what we offer students," said Kennedy, who said union officials were surprised by the referendum. "We're not sure whether it's legal."
ASM President Eric Varney could not be immediately reached for comment.
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