by Aaron Nathans
University of Wisconsin-Madison students overwhelmingly approved a referendum this week that requires workers at the Memorial Union and other organizations that receive student funds to receive a "living wage."
The referendum was placed on the ballot by the Student Labor Action Coalition, whose members believed limited-term employees were paid too little.
The referendum covers organizations that receive student segregated fees, including the Memorial Union, Union South, Recreational Sports and University Health Services.
The question read: "This referendum would amend the ASM bylaws to guarantee that all employees covered by the Auxiliary Budgets shall be guaranteed a living wage." It passed, 1,379 to 612.
University officials said they were caught off guard by the referendum. Earlier this week, Wisconsin Union spokesman Marc Kennedy estimated that the referendum, if passed, would cost students $650,000 annually. Segregated fees make up 28 percent of the Union's budget, he said.
Kennedy and Darrell Bazzell, vice chancellor for administration, have said they were not sure the referendum could be enforced.
"It remains to be seen what effect it will actually have," Kennedy said. "I don't think anybody knew about it until it was happening. There are 40,000 students. Less than 2,000 students voted. I don't think people had enough time to debate the issues."
Limited-term employees earn as little as $7.25 an hour; the Student Labor Action Coalition says the referendum would boost the wages to slightly over $10 per hour.
Ashok Kumar of the coalition said everything was done properly to submit the referendum. The organization wasn't secretive, but was under no obligation to launch a major media campaign, he said.
"I'm ecstatic. This is precedent setting," Kumar said. "This proves that students can affect those who clean their bedrooms and cut their food."
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