Op-Ed: In defense of student employee benefits

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Writer: Hayden Jackson, Political Science, ‘18

Email:hayden.jackson@email.ucr.edu

I love my job here at UCR. I really do.I am a student first and an employee second when my boss is writing the schedule, and this is a blessing exclusive to jobs on campus. I am also blessed to work with some of the most talented staff in all of academia. I am grateful for a fulfilling job that I can get a paycheck from and buy food. But when I look at the benefits descriptions for UC employees, and I stare at that line that is present everywhere, “except students working under 20 hours per week,” it sometimes makes it hard to feel appreciated.

Student employees are categorically ineligible for retirement savings, disability, life and health insurance. This means that student employees get no support from UC in saving for the future. We have no option to pay for insurance in case we experience long-term disability. We have no subsidy for the expensive USHIP insurance we have to pay for if we don’t have insurance from our parents.

This is a disgrace. Student employees are absolutely vital to the smooth operation of the university. Can you imagine the library running without students? Or Dining? Or the Resident Services Offices for on-campus residents? The list goes on and on. And yet, we get absolutely nothing other than a near-minimum wage salary (because the UC’s $15 an hour policy conveniently excluded students because they are not allowed to work more than 19 hours a week). What a thanks we get for all that we do! We keep this campus running, and at a drastically lower cost than if we had to hire professional staff to perform the duties of student employees.

Many might counter by saying that employees on a part-time, variable hour basis like student employees often don’t get benefits. This is simply not true. My previous employer offered subsidized health insurance, life insurance at no cost to the employee, a voluntary 401(k) retirement savings with a match of up to 4 percent of paycheck and many other benefits. And during the school year, I only worked around 20 hours a week. I’m not asking the UC for a full pension and free health insurance. I just want to be able to participate in a 403(b) or 457(b) plan with a small match from the UC.

Retirement savings is important —  yes, even for employees who are barely in their 20’s. Student employees are not subject to FICA taxes (Medicare and Social Security) so these years of employment don’t count toward social security. And even though most of us will work far more than the 10 years required to get benefits, even excluding UC employment, social security is hardly enough to pay the bills in retirement. Starting a retirement account now is vital for young professionals. Of course it is possible to start your own and make your own contributions —  I opened an IRA when I found I was ineligible for UC retirement savings —  but the small contribution from my employer is missing, and it is just too financially taxing for me to contribute 8 percent to make up for both my 4 percent and my previous employer’s 4 percent.

Retirement savings are not the only benefit that student employees ought to have. A 15 or 20 percent discount on USHIP for student employees working a minimum number of hours per quarter would be greatly appreciated at financial aid refund time, and yet it would cost the UC far less than what it pays for health benefits for its professional staff. And this year’s controversy about the Dining food benefit being cut in half is yet another show of how the UC is out of touch with its student employees. Five dollars is rarely enough to buy a meal —  campus food is expensive. The benefit is more like a laugh in students’ faces.

I’m not an unreasonable person. I understand that the cost savings that come as a result of using inexpensive student employee labor are vital to the financial solvency of the UC. But there has to be some open dialogue with campus department heads, the UC human resources and student employees. Benefits should not be off the table. They are inexpensive for the UC yet would go so far toward helping students in their health, their financial well-being and their financial planning for the future.

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