Hazard Pay for Residential Student Workers During Campus Outbreak at Wesleyan University
Fran Koerting, Director of Residential Life at Wesleyan University
Support residential life student workers at Wesleyan University in our fight for hazard pay while working move-out during a COVID-19 outbreak on our campus and ever-rising cases in Connecticut! Please sign onto the petition that we, the residential life student workers, sent the Wesleyan Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting!
Last Thursday, the Wesleyan community received an anxiety-inducing email from Rick Culliton stating that “students who have received a negative result from their most recent [COVID-19] test are advised to leave campus as soon as they are safely able to do so.” Shortly after, another email was sent to Residential Life student workers saying that they were to remain on campus because they were expected to “be available during emergencies to assist in assuring the safety and security of residents.” This means that Residential Life student workers are obligated to put their health on the line “to assist in community response.” Like other essential workers amid this public health crisis, RAs should be entitled to hazard pay, which the US Department of Labor defines as “additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship.” Residential Life student workers –– and RA’s especially –– are predominately BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) and FGLI (first generation, low income) students, and by denying them hazard pay, Wesleyan is making a mockery of its supposedly progressive values by failing to protect its most marginalized students and its most vulnerable workers. This morning, numerous Residential Life student workers signed and sent a letter to the Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting asking for $250 hazard pay for this semester’s closing procedures. Sign onto our petition to demand that the Wesleyan Administration properly compensate Residential Life student workers for the additional risks they are taking in supporting our community. Show your support by signing onto the letter we sent Director Fran Koerting to pay us hazard pay!
Fran Koerting, Director of Residential Life at Wesleyan University
From: [Your Name]
Dear Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting,
We are writing to you to address the circumstances of closing for the Fall 2020 semester. As ResLife student staff, we have concerns about our safety and adequate compensation for this task during a pandemic, especially after a recent spike in COVID-19 cases on Wesleyan’s campus. For the added health and safety risk of our closing responsibilities this semester, we are asking that you grant Resident Advisors, House Managers, and Community Advisors who are working closing during the height of the pandemic in Connecticut (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/connecticut-coronavirus-cases.html) a hazard pay of $250.
The US Department of Labor defines hazard pay as “additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship” (https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/wages/hazardpay). Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the implementation of “hazard pay” has expanded to include not just physically hazardous jobs, but also numerous jobs that have become dangerous due to the necessity of in-person interactions amid a public health crisis. “Essential workers” such as grocery store employees, post office workers, bus drivers, etc. encompass this recent category of worker that requires hazard pay for dangerous jobs during the pandemic –– and this includes RA’s. According to Wesleyan’s ResLife website, “While Residential Life is one of the most important offices at Wesleyan, the student staff are what give the office its heart and drive.” Thus, it goes without saying that ResLife student staff members, whose duty is to ensure safety and build community in residential halls with upwards of thirty residents, are among Wesleyan’s most “essential workers”. Further, ResLife student staff –– and RA’s especially –– are predominately BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) and FGLI (first-generation, low income) students. Wesleyan prides itself in being a progressive institution; in order to live up to these values, Wesleyan must protect its most marginalized students and its most vulnerable workers. Providing hazard pay for ResLife student staff, who are facing essential responsibilities amid Wednesday’s hazardous closing procedures, would be a concrete first step for Wesleyan to live up to these values.
Last Thursday, the Wesleyan community received an anxiety-inducing email from Rick Culliton stating a number of new restrictions. For example, “students who have received a negative result from their most recent test are advised to leave campus as soon as they are safely able to do so,” and “gatherings are restricted to your ‘family unit’ (or roommates)." Both recommendations conflict with the responsibilities we are tasked with during closing procedures: entering multiple residential spaces multiple times throughout the day, gathering with other ResLife staff outside of our family units, and potentially encountering residents who are still in the process of moving out. Also, many of us are leaving campus immediately after closing, therefore running the risk of infecting our family members we come home to after carrying out this essential hazardous work.
After receiving this alarming email and experiencing the school-wide panic that followed, ResLife staff received an email about our closing responsibilities. In particular, we were struck by the following element of the email: “If you remember from your job descriptions, there may be times that you all are expected to ‘Be available during emergencies to assist in assuring the safety and security of residents’… This means that while other students may be encouraged to vacate campus, ResLife student staff are required to remain at Wesleyan to assist in community response.” While this sentiment was indeed written into our student staff handbook, the term “emergency” is quite vague and none of the specific examples offered in the handbook include pandemic-related protocol. Also, the looseness of this statement could allow for dozens of hours of extra labor to be heaped onto the backs of the already underpaid and overworked Reslife staff without a penny in additional compensation. By signing our contracts, we agreed to be present in emergency situations, but we did not consent to being deprived of financial compensation for the health and safety risks this specific emergency situation is demanding of us. It’s important to note, too, that Reslife staff have already been required to undertake additional responsibilities – which we haven’t been paid for – in the wake of this pandemic, including enforcement of pandemic safety guidelines and helping with the exacerbated mental health concerns of residents.
Finally, we would like to raise concerns regarding our overall compensation as RAs. To put this into perspective, most universities –– at the very least –– pay residential student staff by covering the costs of room and board, and sometimes offer additional payment beyond this. In contrast, Wesleyan room and board costs $18,626 for upperclassmen, while our yearly stipends amount to a little over half of this sum: $9,787.68. The fact that the cost of room and board has increased, meanwhile the stipend that RA’s receive has not been accordingly adjusted, just goes to show that RA’s are one of the most heavily exploited campus workers. Since the pandemic, RAs have been told by residential professional staff that Wesleyan’s relative success with COVID-19 prior to this outbreak has been attributed to the essential work that RA’s carry-out. As students and essential workers at Wesleyan University, we ask that you grant us $250 hazard pay for this semester’s closing procedures as a first step in ensuring the care, equity, and protection that a progressive-identifying school should offer to its most vulnerable student workers amid this unprecedented public health crisis.
We look forward to hearing back from you by Tuesday, November, 24th at 5pm.
Wesleyan University Residential Life Student Staff and concerned community members