“We are human beings who have bills to pay just like any other person” : UW student hourly workers left out of COVID-19 leave policy


Retrieved from UWL student employee brochure.

Sam Stroozas, Executive Editor

The University of Wisconsin System created the Interim: COVID-19 Leave Policy on March 17. The policy allows for continued pay and leave for certain UW System employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy reads:

“This is an emergency policy implementing leave provisions and workplace flexibility options during the COVID-19 pandemic prioritizing the health and safety of the UW System community. This policy applies to the following UW System employees: Faculty, Academic Staff, University Staff, Limited Appointees, Employees-In-Training, and Graduate Assistants (Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants and Program Assistants) and Temporary Employees. Student Hourly staff and UW-Madison employees are not included in this policy.”

Between working at Murphy Library, Chars, the Recreational Eagle Center (REC), the Student Union, and more, many University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student hourly staff will now be out of a job for the rest of the semester.

For many students, they rely on these jobs to pay rent, utilities, groceries, and more. Although there are ideas of future ways of support such as donation funds, students still remain disenfranchised and unincluded for any type of leave policy that would continue to aid them.

UW System President Ray Cross sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson including challenges such as the one above that students will face. The letter is attached below in the gallery. But until legislation passes and is shared with students, they have no choice but to dip into their savings, if in existence, and cut off all spending in order to survive as a jobless student.

The UWL foundation and UWL alumni association are setting up a donation fund to aid UWL students in need as well, but it will be on an application basis.

UWL is not the only UW System school impacted by this policy. UW-Milwaukee student Bethany Deyo created a petition entitled, “Paid Leave for UWM Student Employees” which now has 1,702 signatures.

Deyo said she started the petition after she found she was out of a job. “I am a student employee on campus at UW-Milwaukee through Be on The Safe Side (B.O.S.S.) as a Team Leader and Driver. Myself, as well as my coworkers, were made aware of the fact that we would be essentially unemployed for 4 weeks only two days before our final shift before spring break was set to take place,” she said.

Deyo explained that overall, she wants UW System students to understand that this issue is affecting “many individuals, more people than we ever realize.”

“Every campus within the UW System is primarily run and powered by student employment. Almost every single department on my campus alone is essentially student employee driven with a handful of pro-staff alongside them. The issue comes in, however, with the fact that the UW System differentiates these jobs between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ positions, and for the large majority of us, we fall into that ‘non-essential’ category,” said Deyo. “I don’t think that being a ‘non-essential’ employee deems students undeserving of financial support, especially when all of these ‘non-essential’ employees rely on their bi-weekly paychecks to support themselves and pay for rent, utilities, groceries, etc.”

Photo provided.
UW-Milwaukee student, Bethany Deyo.

After receiving an email about the new policy, Deyo looked to see in which ways she, as a student hourly worker, would be supported.

“I ended up calling a few different departments on my campus to try and get some answers about it and, after ending up on the phone with human resources, the best reasoning they could give me was that because student hourly employees are never offered leave of any kind to begin with then this policy is not directed/applicable to them,” Deyo said. “I followed up asking about any kind of support that could be offered to student hourly employees since we can’t get that paid leave and I was then told that my best bet would be to apply for unemployment.”

Deyo shared that she does not feel support from the UW System about this issue or UW-Milwaukee. “The university as a whole does not really seem to care,” she said.

Deyo wants transparency from the UW System and UW-Milwaukee about student hourly workers and why they were not included in the policy.

“I want to know the things that withhold them from doing so, whether it be a larger issue at hand or just their own personal decision to leave student hourly workers behind. If they can offer paid leave to student hourly workers, I want them to adjust the interim policy to reflect that so that student hourly workers can have the reparations they deserve,” said Deyo.

We spoke to two UWL students who are student hourly workers. This is what they had to say.

K.C. Cayo, manager at Chars in Whitney Dining Center 

Cayo said that nothing was communicated to them about what they should do post COVID-19 closure. They wish that there would have been more communication with student workers.

“There should have been more communicated from Chartwells higher ed dining services to its employees. It has been over 24 hours since Chancellor Gow told us of the switch to online classes and nobody has reached out to me about what to do next. Is it applying for unemployment? Is it looking for different work, even though hours are being cut and businesses are closing down? What is the next advisable move?” said Cayo. 

Photo provided.
UWL student, K.C. Cayo.

Cayo also wishes that students would have been included in the leave policy, and all policies surrounding sick leave within the UW System.

“We are human beings who have bills to pay just like any other person. I, specifically, will be harmed by the lack of protections regarding students,” said Cayo. “I work more than the standard 20 hours a week that student workers employed by the university are supposed to work and would otherwise qualify for this leave policy if I weren’t enrolled.”

Cayo has felt like with their identities and collegiate experience, they have been marginalized by UWL and the UW System.

“I am expected to prioritize my work in the school’s dining service before my school work and my grades, and I do without fail, because I prioritize paying my rent and having money for groceries more than my classes. This university constantly asks me to choose between my GPA, my mental health, or having food and shelter, and I know I am not the only student faced with food or housing insecurity,” said Cayo.

“I work more than 20 hours because I need to. I am a queer student who has experienced homelessness and am paying for college entirely out of my own pocket. I am struggling to find work back home, and it isn’t for lack of trying or lack of work experience, as I am a non-traditional student. Work experience is one thing I have plenty of. This university continues to show me all of the ways that it does not care about me, or communities like my own, and it most certainly does not care about student workers.”

Hana Church, student outreach representative at the UWL foundation, building manager for the Student Union and member of the union programming board.

Hana Church holds three jobs at UWL, two of which are student hourly jobs. For her, she received correspondence from her supervisors about the end of her roles.

“Basically, because the campus is closing I no longer have employment until probably the fall semester starts. Everyone was extremely apologetic in their messaging and I think there is just an atmosphere of sadness of saying goodbye,” said Church.

“I did have one supervisor discuss the emergency fund and urged us to apply for it. I am very grateful for how emotionally supportive my supervisors and advisors have been during this time.”

Church shared that she understands why the campus is being closed, and she holds no resentment towards the decision to keep UWL students, faculty and staff safe and healthy, but she still believes that student hourly workers need to be thought of.

Photo provided.
Megan Runkel (left) and Hana Church (right).

“I do wish that students were included in the COVID-19 leave policy. I feel like when the campus is running student employment is essential to the community and all student employees should be compensated for their work,” she said.

Church explained that as a student hourly worker, she depends on her jobs for her basic needs. These include rent, groceries, utilities, and more. “I am lucky enough to have a support system that allowed me to move home, but not everyone has that,” she said.

She said that many students are hurting right now, in many different ways.

“Students are hurting right now whether that be from losing employment and income, not getting to experiences any of their lasts for UWL seniors, or just not getting the option to say see ya later. I just hope this is a continued conversation for students that need help supporting themselves,” said Church.

Church shared that her parents are now facing uncertainties with jobs because of the new Safer at Home policy. Although they are able to support her, it is now harder because they are unsure of their future.

“I think it’s really important to emphasize this is hitting everyone hard, but at different paces,” she said.

Until other resources, such as the UWL donation services are decided, UWL students should consider applying for unemployment if needed. You can do so by following this link: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiben/services.htm