Overworked and underpaid
Campus organizations only commit to pay their employees for a certain number of hours per week. But often, students must work beyond their payroll commitments in order to complete their job requirements. A student employee of WMUA, who prefers to remain anonymous, claims to have worked up to thirty hours a week to fulfill his obligations, but has only been paid for six hours.
“I worked thirty hours a week because my job required it,” said the student. “There was a weekly meeting, office hours and all my other requirements. And inevitably someone calls out sick and then I have to cover for them […] you just can’t complete the work in six hours a week. I always wind up going over.”
According to the student, this is a common problem for student employees not only at WMUA, but also at other on-campus organizations that enforce payroll commitments, such as UVC-TV and The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. At WMUA, the payroll commitments for paid positions are set by members of the WMUA staff.
“People usually exceed their hours, and then they will not get paid,” said WMUA general manager Dana Evernden. “But they’re aware of that. And some weeks they’ll work less, and their extra hours can carry over.”
Other organizations that enforce payroll commitments include Yak Back, which caps at 10 hours per week.
Payroll commitments represent a gray area in terms of the obligations of campus agencies and organizations to their student employees. On one hand, it seems unfair for an organization to demand 30 hours of work from employees and only pay them for six. On the other hand, the employees are warned upfront.
The students who get hit the most by this tend to be the ones who are genuinely involved with their organizations, who care about their work and do the job correctly. Often the students working for organizations like WMUA, UVC-TV-19, and The Collegian are hoping to pursue careers in radio, television or journalism, so putting in the extra hours benefits them in more ways than their salaries. So, the question is: are on-campus agencies capitalizing on students’ passion for their work, or simply doing the best they can on a limited budget?
It’s likely a little of both. The budgets for organizations like WMUA are limited by the fact that they depend heavily on fundraising. In that sense, payroll commitments are sensible because they prevent the students from abusing the organization.
“Salaries are determined by the WMUA executive committee,” said Evernden. “Each position is limited to a certain number of hours per week, as allotted by the budget. Student salaries are paid for primarily by WMUA. About one-third of the money to run the station comes from the SGA. The rest is raised through our annual ‘fund drive.’ WMUA also has two vinyl sales a year and poster sales.”
So, the organizations are kind of stuck. They set payroll commitments because if they let students work as many hours as they want, the organizations will go broke. But, if they can’t afford to pay students beyond their set payroll commitments, then the job requirements should match the hours they set for each position. There are 15 paid positions at WMUA, ranging from news and publicity directors to office coordinators and music librarian. Depending on the job requirements, student positions will be allotted anywhere from five to eighteen hours per week. Their salaries and payroll commitments are determined by an executive committee comprised of WMUA employees. So, the number of hours each position is allotted per week is determined by the students. In a sense, this is a good thing because the students who run the organization are in the best position to judge how many hours each position requires.
There is no standardized procedure for organizations to determine payroll commitments and salaries.
“We generally set salaries based on what was set the previous year,” said Dana Evernden.
The problem, then, may not be with the organizations themselves, but with the lack of any larger regulation of student payrolls at UMass. If UMass had a standardized system for determining appropriate payroll commitments, it might be easier to prevent students from being overworked without pay.
Rachel Dougherty is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.