Students show up to work despite stress, non-payment and fear of unsafety
José Juan Rodriguez Gutierrez is a second year Resident Student Service Advisor at Humboldt State University, which mostly involves providing general student assistance and taking phone calls. This semester, Gutierrez and the other RSSAs’ jobs added pandemic precautions.
“We have new cleaning procedures at the start of every shift. We also have to get tested as employees,” Gutierrez said. “We also have followed the two week quarantine before any of us started working [and] if anyone leaves the county, that’s still being required.”
When the pandemic began in the spring, Gutierrez and the other RSSAs were put on paid leave for the rest of the semester while the university developed a strategy for fall. For students like Gutierrez, returning home to Los Angeles wasn’t an option, so he spent the summer working odd jobs and searching for a long term back up plan.
“If anything, LA was a lot worse during the pandemic,” Gutierrez said. “I decided it would be safer to stay up here and if school couldn’t employ me, I was gonna apply to some of the other local areas.”
With education virtual this semester, many of the other RSSAs decided not to return to campus, reducing the staff to approximately half of what it was in the spring. According to Gutierrez, the most challenging part of the transition has been not having the authority to enforce proper pandemic protocols.
“It’s been pretty disturbing seeing like groups of eight people hang out together since the first week,” Gutierrez said. “It takes like three, four days to get your [COVID-19 test] results and I think that even before people got them, they were already hanging out, walking in and out [of our building], and that is something that concerned me and many of my other co-workers.”
Within his department, however, Gutierrez feels precautions are being taken very seriously and he takes comfort in the extra procedures that initially felt like a drag.
“I feel like before this, we live in a society that was so set on doing things no matter what you felt, like your personal being did not matter,” Gutierrez said. “The fact that we can kind of rely on each other, that we’ve taken care of ourselves and we’re trying to do everything we can to stay safe, I feel like that’s been really rewarding and I feel that the sense of respect to ourselves and to others gets carried on out of this pandemic.”
Lee Chase, Critical race, gender and sexuality studies major, got a job this semester as a Teacher’s Assistant in his department, after not receiving an offer to return to the the J dining services. The TA position offered a small pay increase. It wasn’t made clear, however, that he was being paid from a stipend that would max out.
“That wasn’t communicated to me at the beginning of the semester,” Chase said. “I think ultimately it will be way below minimum wage if it becomes a stipend or if they’re not able to figure something out.”
Along with likely receiving less compensation than he signed up for, Chase has yet to receive his first paycheck as of the first week of November.
“I’ve been having a lot of trouble with paperwork cause usually they do this stuff in person, so it’s been really slow,” Chase said. “I would have expected them to be more organized in regards to payment and getting paperwork done and like, communicating.”
Setting aside payment issues, Chase appreciated being able to conduct his work entirely online. Working from home, however, began to interfere with Chase’s education.
“I put my camera off in my classes and just grade.” Chase said. “It’s simple work, you can kind of just get it done, but it does take time.”
Along with grading, Chase also writes weekly assignments and collaborated with the professor in creating this semester’s midterm.
“I feel like I’m learning a lot from just having to create questions and re-engage with the readings.” Chase said. “I’m learning a lot too just about what is expected in papers and responses and how to communicate what is expected to people, which is helping me in my other classes I think.”
Destiny Aguilera, theatre arts major, worked at the Depot in the spring but was transferred to the Marketplace this semester after the Depot didn’t reopen. Like the RSSAs, dining service workers were not given notice about jobs until moments before the school year started. For Aguilera, this made the summer especially stressful.
“To work on campus and to have that financial support was definitely a big factor [in staying].” Aguilera said. “Also, my partner and I didn’t have the funds to move back to Southern California [or] Minnesota where they live, so we had to figure out how to make it work up here.”
New management and a significantly reduced staff presented additional challenges at the Marketplace this semester. In Aguilera’s case, this means sacrificing some of their rehearsal time in the theatre department to accommodate a less flexible work schedule. What really bothers Aguilera is HSU’s laid back approach to the threat of COVID-19.
“A lot of the people who work on campus, like at the Marketplace, weren’t told that we had to come in and get testing done in any aspect,” Aguilera said.
Aguilera also has serious concerns about serving students who don’t respect the social distancing protocols dictated inside the Marketplace. With a full schedule of classes and limited local opportunities available, however, Aguilera doesn’t have another option.
“The honesty policy works, unless someone decides to be dishonest and that factor is always a little bit scary,” Aguilera said. “A lot of us don’t live on campus, we go home to other people and families and stuff. We don’t get to go home and just isolate and it’s hard when students disrespect the policies on campus.”