Whitman Budgets Adjust to Initiative 1433

Chris Hankin, News Editor

In November of 2016, Washington State voters approved Initiative 1433 to increase the state minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020. The gradual transition began January 1, 2017 when the minimum wage increased to $11 per hour. Businesses and budgets across the state have been scrambling to adjust to the changes, and Whitman College has not been immune.

On campus jobs provide nearly $1.5 million to Whitman students every year, according to the College’s Treasurer, Peter Harvey. “If you stop and think about it, students work everywhere on campus and we try to provide as many jobs as possible. For a lot of students it’s a part of how they pay for their education. It’s important,” Harvey noted.

As a result of the minimum wage increase, departments are working to see where they can cut back. For many departments, this will include cutting hours at their facilities. For some students this will mean earning as much money as they need while working less. For others it will mean that they are unable to access facilities on campus as often as they are used to.

Because Whitman’s academic year begins in July and the change went into effect in January, the College has been trying to react on the fly until the budget is reworked during the summer of 2017. This has been particularly hard on Whitman’s food service provider, Bon Appétit.

As a contractor, Bon Appétit charges Whitman College a fee and then provides a service: food. The price that they charged the college for the 2016-2017 school year was based on a minimum wage of $9.47. All student employees at Bon Appétit earn minimum wage, so the increase has dramatically affected their budget.

Roger Edens, Bon Appétit General Manager at Whitman, mentioned the financial burden that the minimum wage increase placed on their business. “Bon Appétit employs about 50 student workers, who do a great job for us … The 16 percent increase in the minimum wage will definitely impact our costs.”

Junior Chloe Casey worked at Bon Appétit for two years. Bon Appétit is not cutting student hours, as that would limit the number of meals they could serve. Casey acknowledges however that this may be unique to food service at Whitman.

The increase may also impact the cost of tuition for students at Whitman. Not only will the College have to pay its minimum wage employees more every year, Peter Harvey pointed out that “there are a lot of costs rising in the state of Washington because of a higher minimum wage.” These price increases will most likely be reflected in tuition increases over the next few years.

It is of course important not to oversimplify this issue. College tuition would likely have increased every year regardless of the minimum wage increase. Additionally, Washington State voters overwhelmingly supported the initiative. The minimum wage increase will benefit some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. 

For Harvey, recognizing this nuance is key. “Helping lower paid people is a part of a good society, but we have to understand that higher prices are a part of that,” Harvey said.