In response to multiple student petitions, UW-Madison released a statement Tuesday committing to income continuation for all nonessential student employees through early April amid COVID-19 closures.
Federal work-study employees will be paid at their current rate for 10 hours of work per week, as it is a form of financial aid, while non-federal work-study student employees will be paid $130 for the next two pay periods, April 9 and April 23.
In UW-Madison sophomore Savannah Donegan’s job as a Learning Community Programming Assistant in Chadbourne Residence Hall, she builds community around education by offering different events focused on social justice, academia, environmental issues and mental health.
But Donegan is considered a non-essential employee — a categorization she, and many others, do not agree with.
“Mental health is a really big aspect of this position and making sure that [residents] feel safe in their space,” Donegan said. “I think that’s why a lot of us were really upset that we were not allowed to do remote work because there’s definitely still a role for that as students go home and face difficult family situations, mental health and academics.”
Donegan and her colleagues in the Learning Community Programming argued for their positions to be placed online, as they believe they can continue to do meaningful work remotely — by providing resources for residents and setting up virtual meetings with house fellows or other support staff.
Therefore Donegan and her counterpart Anna Lee drafted an email Monday that gained over 500 signatures from students and faculty alike, demanding the opportunity to work remotely and continue to receive wages.
“We, the residence life, dining, desk, facilities, and other student staff of University Housing, are reaching out to address the choices that have been made regarding student staff pay and remote work,” the email stated. “We want to express to you the frustration, sadness, and disappointment we and hundreds of other student staff felt about the decisions surrounding work and pay during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Administration responded to the email with a public statement concerning the pay of student employees during this time. The university recognized this will not compensate all the expenses students necessitate during this time, noting a myriad of other services being put in place for students struggling financially during the pandemic.
“The primary goal is to provide financial relief to student hourly employees as quickly as possible without administrative delays,” university administration said in a press release. “Payments are based on campus average hours and pay of student hourly staff.”
Donegan noted her enthusiasm that the university is taking steps to help students struggling financially during this time. However, she emphasized her own — and her colleagues' — disappointment the university did not respond to their claim they are essential employees who can work remotely during this time.
“As we stated in our letter, going online should not devastate our sense of community or diminish support for our students,” Donegan said. “University Housing should be encouraging us to find creative ways to support our residents and meet their needs remotely.”
Students in need of additional financial help can fill out an emergency aid form with the Office of Student Financial Aid.
[Editor’s Note: 3/26/2020, 3:30 p.m.] An earlier version of this story stated the university had committed to income continuation through the end of spring semester, instead of through early April, and has since been revised.