Student workers take salary reduction

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Faculty and staff voted to take a 5 percent pay cut last spring to prevent more class cuts. Student workers on campus also took a pay cut, but never got a chance to vote. Some insist they were never told.

There is also confusion about what college records say students are making and what they are actually paid. Students, like employees, are making 5 percent less, but official college payroll records do not reflect the pay reductions.

One student, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had worked at the Academic Success Center (ASC) for years. According to payroll records he is making $11 per hour. In reality, after the cut, he is paid $10.45 an hour. He said the monthly contract he must sign to keep his job stipulates he will be paid at his original rate of $11 even though he is actually making $10.45.

“Every month we sign our HRTs (Human Resource Transactions), the form which shows how many hours we worked and what our rate of pay is,” he said. “Every month I signed that timesheet at the beginning of the month, and again it said I would be paid $11 per hour.”

Andrew Rempt, director of the Academic Success Center, said all the student workers he knows are being treated the same way.

“These students have to sign these HRTs to get paid,” he said. “Each HRT shows what they are contracted to be paid. The HRT goes to Payroll and then the college takes off the 5 percent. But that means the students aren’t being paid what the school is contractually bound to pay them.”

Rempt said he believes the college is in violation of the law.

“Because the hourly and student workers aren’t covered by collective bargaining agreements, they did not get a vote [on the pay cut],” he said. “They’re not represented. One interpretation of the law would be that they’re independent contractors, which is what gives the district the leeway to let them go whenever they want. What this means, though, is that when the district enters into a contract with them, it’s binding.”

The anonymous student said he wanted people to know what was going on, but because he is an at-will employee the district could fire him without reason. He feared he would lose his job for speaking out.

Rempt said there could be good reason to fear that.

“They can prove their point,” he said, “but that’s about it. Some of the hourly employees worry because they are at-will employees. The college could just decide, gosh you’re pesky, and make them all go away.”

In addition to questionable legal issues, the college has apparently failed to notify many hourly employees of the pay cut. Documents acquired by The Sun show that the college gave no notice of the coming cut to employees who received checks in July or September. But employees who did work on-campus in August were notified by a short statement on their monthly pay stub. Many students do not work during the month of July, the month covered by the checks issued in August. Most students who work in July use direct deposit and did not receive pay stubs. Students must log into a website to view them. As a result, most students The Sun spoke to had no idea that their paychecks were cut.

Steve Crow, vice president of business and financial affairs since July, said he was unaware of discrepancies with student pay.

“There are no proposed student pay cuts of any kind,” he said.

When informed that employees had already had their pay lowered by 5 percent, he expressed surprise and said that another campus vice president had already denied the fact the cuts existed.

“Dr. Albert Róman [vice president of human resources]was the one who told me we had not cut anybody,” he said. “You should probably talk to him.”

Crow said he was unaware that students signed monthly HRTs.

“I recall that probably there was a proportional 5 percent adjustment [to their paychecks],” he said. “But I wasn’t aware that there were contracts.”

In an email, Róman said that SWC had no plans to shrink the paychecks of its most vulnerable workers.

“There is no intent on the college’s part to reduce our student workers’ pay,” he said. “If there is some confusion on this matter we will take the necessary steps to clarify and correct any pay issues to make sure our student workers are kept at the same hourly rate.”

Róman said he wanted to make sure correct information got out.

“This will help to circulate the right message that students are not in fact being cut,” he said, “and that if there are any discrepancies in pay, they need to be brought to our attention so that we can address them immediately.”

During an interview with The Sun Róman refused to let the reporter record the conversation, but stated flatly that SWC was not cutting student pay. The adjustment Crow referred to was not addressed. When provided with documentation of the cut, he said, “If there is a problem, I will fix it.”

A few hourly student workers were willing to talk on the record or provide documentation about the 5 percent cut.

“It’s really hard for us because most of us are students who need the money,” said Rubi Guido, a tutor in the ASC. “They buy books, they buy gas, so many things with that check. They’re really affected.”

Guido is not a student, but has been an on-campus tutor for 10 years.

“I’m really affected, too,” she said. “I help my husband pay our mortgage with this.”

Eduardo Villanueva is a math and chemistry tutor and an SWC student. He is working toward an associates’ degree in mathematics. He has worked in the ASC since 2010. It is his only job.

“Little by little, this will get tougher,” he said. “That money is what I rely on for my transportation, food, all my needs.”

Guido did not work in July, so was never informed that she would be paid less than she budgeted. She was shocked that the college failed to inform her.

“Why didn’t they tell us this?” she asked. “Why didn’t they give us some notification? This just happened.”

Rempt said he understands why college employees voted for the pay cut, but questions how much the school will gain from a decision that actually harms its students and hourly workers.

“The college should be protecting itself and doing the right thing to make sure these people are getting paid,” he said. “We are talking about 12, 12.50 an hour – peanuts. I understand that every penny counts, but however…”

Villanueva said the school can rectify this situation with one easy step.

“I would really like to get it back to what it was before,” he said. “What I signed up for.”

Ernesto Rivera contributed to this story.

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