SGA: UMass to pay students who work on campus for lost wages

  • A solitary person walks past the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Monday morning, Feb. 8, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Monday, February 22, 2021

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts students who work on campus and can’t transition to doing their jobs remotely will be fully compensated for lost wages during the ongoing self-sequestration period running through Feb. 21, according to leaders of the UMass Student Government Association. 

Following advocacy from the SGA and Graduate Student Senate, which adopted a statement expressing concern about the stay-at-home order as COVID-19 cases spike at UMass, the university informed the organizations on Feb. 11 that student workers with campus jobs would receive wages, even when those jobs can’t be done from home, said SGA President Sonya Epstein.

The decision to provide full compensation for students working on campus comes as the university reported 603 active cases of COVID-19 last Friday.

During the so-called high-risk operational procedure UMass is in, students who have jobs off campus are prohibited from going to workplaces, and can leave their dwellings, whether on campus or off, only to be tested for COVID-19, to go to medical appointments, or to pick up grab-and-go meals.

Epstein said there is still a fight ahead for students who work as waitstaff at restaurants, clerks at stores and other businesses, but that student leaders are pleased with the first step that goes beyond offering students a chance to apply for $300 grants to get them through the lockdown period.

“We hope that soon the university reverses its decision to not allow students to work at their off-campus jobs and communicates to town governments and businesses in the Amherst area that students may work at their place of off-campus employment, as soon as possible, so that we can ensure financial security for students,” Epstein said.

The order is being taken seriously by local officials. Amherst, Hadley and Sunderland’s health boards have all issued orders keeping 25% capacity limits on restaurants in place, even as Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has lifted the capacity cap statewide to 40%.

In Northampton, Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary issued a letter to business owners and managers warning them that, even as she understands adaptations necessary to protect the health of the community have been made and there is reliance on UMass students for staffing support, they must abide by the campus quarantine.

“For the safety of your employees and protection of our community, please be sure that if you employ UMass students that they are not allowed to come to work until quarantine/stay in place order has been lifted,” O’Leary wrote.

The joint statement from the student representatives issued this week reads, in part, “We are extremely concerned about and stand against UMass’s decision to not allow students to go to their off-campus jobs without adequately providing the financial support needed to make up for lost income and protections from sanctions. Students should not be forced to choose between their jobs to pay for basic necessities and facing possible conduct charges, or staying at home and being at risk of housing, food and other financial insecurities.”