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Duke to increase employee minimum wage to $15 by 2019

In 2016, People gathered at Duke Chapel to celebrate Duke Teaching First becoming eligible to unionize.

Over 2,300 Duke University staff members will get a pay raise by 2019.

Duke will increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour for all regular university and health system staff, according to an Aug. 25 university statement.

Contractors who employ individuals working on Duke’s campus will be expected to move their full-time employees on campus to the new Duke minimum wage according to the same schedule.

UNC has two minimum wages: one determined by the state and one determined by the University — both less than Duke's planned $15. 

Linc Butler, UNC's associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, said in an email statement that compensation explanations or changes in state government and state university settings are rarely simple and differ from private employers.

The statement said the University has two general types of employees: those who are Subject to the (State) Human Resources Act — known as SHRA, including staff and employees — and those who are Exempt from the (State) Human Resources Act — known as EHRA, including EHRA non-faculty and faculty members. 

The Human Resources Act provides employers who receive state funding guidelines to manage their employees. 

Salary ranges for SHRA employees are established by the state through the Office of State Human Resources. UNC's minimum salary is $25,000, equating to $12.02 per hour. 

UNC has the authority to develop its own ranges for EHRA Non-Faculty employees in compliance with federal laws and UNC-system policies. The minimum salary for an EHRA Non-Faculty employee is $30,000, or $14.42 per hour.

“Each employee type has its own compensation system governed by an external entity,” the statement said.

Kyle Cavanaugh, Duke's vice president of administration, said Duke has a history of establishing an institution-wide minimum wage. 

“(Duke) has been paying entry level positions significantly above the federal minimum wage for quite some time and has been committed to the notion of trying to really take care of our entire workforce,” he said. “Over the last several years, we have been progressively on a path to increase this.”

Duke, the largest private employer in Durham, increased its minimum wage from $10.91 to $12 per hour in 2015 and moved to $13 per hour in 2017. With the planned changes in the next two years, Duke's minimum wage will have increased by 37 percent since 2015.

“We want to create as positive a value proposition for our workforce as possible,” Cavanaugh said.

Some local and campus groups, such as the Workers Union at UNC, endorse organizations like Fight For $15 and support increases in the UNC campus minimum wage.

Stephen Pedroza, a research technician at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and member of UNC Workers Union Organizing Committee, said minimum wage increases aren’t the group’s only focus. 

“We hope to represent campus workers and graduate students, and we hope to pretty aggressively fight for better working conditions and better pay in a general sense,” he said.

T. William Lester, a UNC city and regional planning professor, said private entities sometimes raise the minimum wage as a result of local campaigns such as the Orange County and Durham County living wage movements. 

“They’re trying to use the market system to encourage businesses to raise the minimum wage, and that works for businesses who are so inclined like Duke or the restaurant Vimala’s here in Chapel Hill,” he said. 

Lester said the drawback is that it only affects a share of the labor market.

“Is it a good thing individual employers like Duke agree to raise the minimum wage on their own? Yes,” he said. “It’s a good thing in terms of the quality of life for low wage workers and, in the case of Duke, is setting a standard in the labor market. But I think that’s not a substitute for a real mandate.”

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Regardless of the means by which employers decide their minimum wage, Michael Burrows, a doctoral candidate at Duke and a member of Duke’s graduate student union, said it is unrealistic to ask people to work more than 40 hours a week for insufficient pay.

“I think businesses have an obligation to treat their employees with decency so that they can live lives with dignity, Burrows said. "And companies that don’t do that shouldn’t really exist."


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