Confusion about compensation leaves student workers scrambling

With the University in reduced operations, many student workers do not know when they will get their next paycheck.

Signs for businesses located inside Coffman Union, many of which employ student workers, are seen on Saturday, March 21.

Parker Johnson

Signs for businesses located inside Coffman Union, many of which employ student workers, are seen on Saturday, March 21.

by Farrah Mina

With the University of Minnesota closing all major campus venues in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, many student workers have been scrambling to find a source of income in the thick of uncertainty. 

The University began extended reduced operations on Monday, and many University services have already been cut down. On March 17, all University libraries closed, and all recreation and wellness programs — aside from mental health programming — were canceled. For many student workers, these closures mean they are unable to work their regularly scheduled shifts, raising questions and creating anxiety about compensation. 

“We are working on a plan to continue to pay you uninterrupted, regardless of the work you can or cannot do, through the end of the semester,” President Joan Gabel said in a campuswide email March 18. “We will revisit this issue, as needed, when the semester concludes on each campus.”

On Friday, some student workers said they received communication from their supervisors about receiving a biweekly paycheck with more details to come in the next few days, bringing some relief to a week of financial uncertainty.

According to University policy, student workers should continue to get paid under reduced operations until the term ends or campus returns to normal operations.  

“During extended emergency closings or reduced operations that continue for more than 72 hours, student workers who have no work assignment will receive a biweekly payment equivalent to an average of the number of hours they have worked per week in the current term,” the policy reads.

For many student workers, the past week has cultivated stress about paying bills. 

When fourth-year student Charlotte Thomasson learned the Electrical and Computer Engineering Depot she worked at was closing, she said she was scared. Thomasson, who relies on her paycheck for food, utilities and other expenses, started looking at applying for unemployment.

“The U needs to … provide more resources for students that are affected by closures,” she said

In the wake of losing scheduled hours as a museum guard, fourth-year student Jack Jarvey applied for unemployment to support himself when the Weisman Art Museum shut its doors March 13. 

Before Friday — when his supervisors were able to give him more clarity about pay — Jarvey did not know when he would work another shift or get another paycheck. 

The University has not been clear about how it is going to pay student workers, he said.

Second-year student Madeline Tapper was also left scrambling. Tapper, who works at the Recreation and Wellness Center, searched for babysitting gigs as another way to make ends meet. What she makes at the RecWell goes to rent and groceries. 

“I would work probably, like, 16 hours a week, so I definitely relied on the money I was making there,” she said. 

Blia Thor, a second-year product design student, also relied on the money from her job as a graphic designer in the College of Science and Engineering. Her paycheck helped her cover rent, groceries and her phone bill. Without a paycheck, Thor said she would have had to dip into her savings.

“Trying to make up that money somewhere else is a struggle,” she said.

The University is still working out the logistics of compensating student workers, supervisors told students. For now, some student workers know they will be paid soon. 

“ … Our Office of Human Resources is tirelessly reviewing the wide variety of positions within our University workforce to provide policy guidance for compensation and related issues,” Gabel said in an email March 19.